Sarah Portway: call to professionals

February 01, 1999

At the end of January, as I contemplated my last few days in corporate life, I realised that it is almost 10 years to the day since I came back to live in the UK. That means that I’ve been an active participant in corporate community investment here for a whole decade!

In that time, CCI has grown from its adolescent roots to adult life. Before we get too complacent, however, we should remember there is still a long way to go before we can really claim it has become integrated into the mainstream of British business.

There can be no argument either that the corporate community investment profession has also changed dramatically. Ten years ago it almost felt like a club, a small coterie of individuals, mainly from the large companies with headquarters in London, who would regularly bump into each other at various charity events or seminars around town.

Now it is a very different scene. Many companies have community affairs personnel. Marketing people are increasingly becoming exposed to CCI through their use of cause related marketing. Human resource personnel are becoming involved using employee involvement as an HR development tool. PR agencies are beginning to develop their own community relations practices. Business schools are getting interested…. the list goes on.

I wonder whether, as a profession, we are missing a trick here. Is there not some way that we can harness all of this effort more effectively to help further the cause of corporate community involvement? There is so much talent out there, so much enthusiasm and commitment, so much experience. But are we pooling that resource effectively both to spread the word and to disseminate good practice through businesses across the land? I don’t think so. Have we perhaps come of age sufficiently to contemplate the development of a professional association for community affairs practitioners?

Sarah Portway returned to the UK from Australia in 1989 to join the public affairs department at IBM United Kingdom. In 1994, becoming Communications and Corporate Affairs Director made her the first female director of IBM UK. In 1996 she became Director of Corporate Communications for Kimberly-Clark Europe. She has served on the Board of the Corporate Respon- sibility Group from 1992, most recently as its chairperson. Now she is setting up her own communications and external affairs consultancy, ASPIRE Communications. Her voluntary involvement includes serving on the Council of the RSA and being a member of the RSA Inquiry Team into Tomorrow’s Company.

Corporate Citizenship Briefing, issue no: 44 – February, 1999