Home Month and Year February 2020 Collective Altruism

Collective Altruism

Brad Field

The new year is in full swing. People my age feel like Y2K was just yesterday, not two full decades ago. In those 20 years, Calgary has boomed, busted, boomed again and, yes, busted again. We always manage to adapt and evolve. The resource-based economy of the Prairie provinces is naturally vulnerable to commodity price swings. Fortunately, our history is also full of community spirit and altruism. Calgary business practice includes giving back, which in 2020 takes a bit of a different shape than it has in decades past.

Altruism is about service without expectation, caring for others without personal ego. It’s a deeply embedded value on the Prairies; it’s no coincidence Alberta’s longest-serving premier was Ernest Manning, and Saskatchewan’s was Tommy Douglas. Both leaders believed deeply in community service and collective responsibility.

What does this mean to business? Whether it’s called corporate social responsibility or “conscious capitalism,” altruism has become a distinct marker of business success. Those growing and flourishing in what is being described as the worst economic conditions of our lifetime are doing so by putting people first, starting with their employees.

The development of people-first business practices turns some former “nice-to-haves” into non-negotiables. Altruism means caring about employee well-being. While supports and benefits can take different forms from workplace to workplace, we have learned that employers get out of employees exactly what they put in. In the past decade, companies have upped the game on mental health benefits. Health and fitness benefits alleviate the financial barriers to living a healthful life. Alberta’s own ATB has led the charge in evaluating their people on performance, not presence, giving their team members the opportunity to, in their words, manage all aspects of their lives, including work. Obviously, not everything will work in all workplaces, but tailored investments into people go a long way. Take care of your people, and your people take care of you.

Altruism in a business context also means corporate giving. In the past, some corporate philanthropy was about cherry-picking the CEO’s favourite cause. Today’s shift to well-rounded support is crucial for the Calgary community. This evolution gives heightened merit to rallying a team around causes and making meaningful impact. While money matters to our not-for-profit organizations, corporate giving is no longer limited to dollars and cents. Giving now balances money and time, forging long-term relationships between companies and community organizations and helping them plan for long-term success. How appropriate that Benevity, a world leader in software for corporate giving, was born right here in Calgary.

Successful businesses spark the flame of successful societies. I sense an anti-business tone in our civic discourse recently that worries me. There aren’t many successful business people who have bought Ferraris ahead of investing in their business, or job creation, or people. When entrepreneurs and company leaders are free to operate in a stable environment, conducive to growth and opportunity, communities will thrive. The flip side is what we see now. Soaring taxes and costs are driving businesses out of Calgary, and the social costs are becoming evident. I fear what could come if city council can’t stop squabbling amongst themselves long enough to create a long-term solution to the growing sense of discontent in our business community. Take care of us so we can continue to help take care of Calgary.