ABOUT THE ORGANISATION FOR RESPONSIBLE BUSINESSES
We launched with a mission…
The Organisation for Responsible Businesses was registered as a company limited by shares in February 2009 and converted to a Community Interest Company in February 2019.
On 30th August 2022, our founders Jill Poet and Mike Wilson gifted ORB to its members by merging ORB into a new company limited by guarantee.
Officially the National Organisation for Responsible Micro, Small and Medium-sized Businesses, the new company will maintain the same trading names.
Most impostantly, a bespoke set of Articles of Association is designed to protect the company’s purpose for the future.
ORB launched in February 2010 with a mission to change the world, one small business at a time.
That mission remains the same today, as does our vision:
“We have a vision of thriving, vibrant cities, towns and villages where small businesses play a vital role in their local communities, contributing to social, environmental and economic sustainability, and setting an example of ethical and responsible business in the UK and across the world.”
ORB is primarily a membership organisation for ethical and responsible SMEs.
In addition to basic membership, we have a separate auditable certification, the Responsible Business Standard. Online options include a comprehesive course and three certification options.
But the story of ORB began a long time before our launch, and our journey in the last 15 years or so has been far from straightforward!
Founder and CEO
Founder and Director
We are Jill Poet and Mike Wilson, founders and directors of ORB and, more recently, husband and wife.
Our professional backgrounds have nothing to do with responsible business, CSR, social value, shared value or whatever label you want to use, apart from an innate understanding that this was the way businesses should operate, and a passion for wanting to encourage others to care about people and the environment.
My background (Jill Poet) is as a management accountant. Apart from a foray into London during my first years of working life (which was an awfully long time ago!) I have worked for small businesses and/or run my own small accountancy firm in Southend where I also live. I have worked for many different types of business although have specialised over the years in the leisure industry and solicitors – rather chalk and cheese.
But I was never just a back-office number cruncher. I was always involved in many aspects of operating the various companies I worked for, including quite a lot of project management, so over the years I developed a very broad base of business knowledge.
Mike’s professional background was in electro-mechanical design, mostly working with larger companies on a contract basis, but also operating his own business for several years.
When he changed career to become a self-taught graphic designer, he produced several magazines and websites. He is particularly proud of Healthy Life – Mind, Body and Soul, an A4 free issue, 52-page glossy magazine which was the forerunner to the Healthy Life Essex (HLE) website.
HLE is aimed at the general public and encourages people to lead happier, healthier, greener lifestyles.
But, increasingly, we were thinking about how businesses approached a more ‘conscious’ way of operating ……….
There was a gap in the market: CSR for SMEs
Having converted HLE to a community interest company in 2008, I attended many social enterprise / social responsibility type events in London and was perplexed that there was much rhetoric about CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) but always focussed on large corporates. The ‘corporate’ in CSR is really a misnomer because, of course, responsible business is applicable to every size of business from a sole proprietor upwards.
With a background of working with SMEs, I wondered what was being done to encourage small businesses to embrace CSR concepts. Research confirmed that, apart from a few small pockets of activity, there was little focus on encouraging SMEs to adopt ethical and responsible business practices.
Only one thing to do then. We would set up our own organisation to drive the responsible business message forward – as you do!
Our initial thoughts were to develop this as the business arm of Healthy Life Essex. But we realised quite quickly that in 2008 most business owners didn’t consider you to be a serious businessperson if you were talking about complementary therapies, spirituality and sustainability. (Ten years on, and I’m delighted to report that is no longer the case.)
So, we set up a new company, Organisation for Responsible Businesses, removed all the Healthy Life Essex related signwriting from our little KA, and started talking to people about RESPONSIBLE BUSINESS.
The reaction was surprising. For the first few years of starting a conversation with someone we hadn’t met before, about 80% responded by saying: “Oh, we recycle.”
Yes, most business owners just didn’t get the concept of responsible business back then.
But fortunately, much has changed in the last ten years. It started with a growing awareness of the importance of wellbeing in the workplace, at first on a more general basis and then latterly with an emphasis on mental health in the workplace; then social value took centre stage with central government and most local authorities committed to embedding social value criterion in procurement processes (lots more to be done, but it is work in progress), which encouraged more businesses to think about how they could support their local communities; and then, of course, the world finally seems to have woken up to the reality that there is a climate crisis which is everyone’s business!
Back to 2008-2010
But back to our journey with the development of ORB. Back to 2008 to 2010, the time between first conceiving our new baby and bringing it part-developed into the world.
Most of you will remember there was a global financial crisis in 2008. And we were about to launch a new company that needed a business loan. Challenging, to say the least. Most banks were simply not lending – to anyone. Not even an interview. Just a closed door, however hard you pushed.
As you would expect, we had a big fat business plan. We needed £x to develop our quite complex web platforms plus a marketing budget and other overheads and then, once we had launched, two additional tranches of £10k each to build the dream team that would help us fast track business growth. Fortunately, our local RBS business manager loved the concept of ORB and put forward our loan application which was approved.
Websites built, marketing in place, a fantastic launch day in February 2010 and we were off!
Our plan in tatters
Two months after launch, we applied for the first tranche of £10k. Yes, no problem said our business manager. NO WAY said the faceless machine at Head Office. No turnover. But our business plan said…. we appealed. NO WAY.
Our business manager was probably as devasted as we were. But what to do? Our business plan was in tatters.
If we ever meet, I’ll happily tell you the story of how we were just seconds away from giving up. But I believe a little bit of divine intervention took place! Neither of us are religious, but I’m sure someone was looking down on us and was not going to let us give up so easily. Quite rightly, of course. We had an important job to do.
My goodness, what a challenging few years lay ahead!!
2011 – Marching onwards
Despite the rather deflated financial position we found ourselves in just after launch, around that same time there was an increased emphasis from government on encouraging and enabling SMEs to bid for public sector contracts.
We had always considered launching some form of certification – not as a requirement for membership but as a separate opportunity for any small business. It seemed the perfect time to complete the plans that were lurking in the background and provide SMEs an alternative to the often cumbersome and inappropriate ISO options.
Working with Anglia Ruskin University and several associates, we launched the Responsible Business Standard, a full on-site auditable certification specifically designed for SMEs.
The Responsible Business Standard – validated by Anglia Ruskin University
Over the following few years, we trained many auditors, and many companies gained the Responsible Business Standard at bronze silver or gold levels.
But it became increasingly obviously that there was an appetite for an online version…
2020 – A new decade, a different vibe
Ten tears after we first launched, we could feel a tingle of excitement.
Now really is a time of change!
We are excited when we look back and see how much has changed in the last ten years or so. Did our voice help bring about some of that change, I wonder?
And we are even more excited when looking forward and planning how we are going to drive the responsible business movement and escalate that change
In 2008 when we started the development of ORB, we were more than a little ahead of our time.
But in this new decade, there is definitely an appetite for change. It is reassuring to see an awareness that as business owners, we are never too small to make a difference.
Sadly, just as we launched our new website in March 2020, the pandemic and ensuing lockdown caused mayhem, sadness and tragedy for countless individuals and businesses.
We anticipated significant attrition but over the next year we had virtually none. Membership continued to grow.
And we ramped up plans to develop move the RBS online plans.
2021 – New developments
At the beginning of the year, we formed an Advisory Board: fantastic people who were specialists in their field and keen to help us achieve our ambition of changing the world, one small business at a time!
In May, we launched the online Responsible Business/Social Value Course with Certification Options. The course has been accredited by the CPD Group.
Membership is growing faster then ever before.
We can see a very exciting time ahead for all things responsible business!
But perhaps other changes should now be considered …?
We are not quite ready yet, but I suspect Mike and I will have handed over the reins to new, young blood within the next 5 years as we are already past retirement age.
But in the meantime, we do hope you will join us on our ongoing journey.
Jill and Mike