There's many benefits to be gained from supporting the community, as Felicity Landon explains
Community involvement – what’s in it for the port? A great deal, as it happens – and it’s clear that ports are increasingly recognising the fact, with community programmes that go far beyond the occasional sponsorship of a football tournament.
“Ports are more and more embracing sustainable development goals and consider themselves more than just a node in the transport network,” says Maurice Jansen, senior manager, innovation, research & development, at STC Group in Rotterdam. “Their societal goal is to provide accessibility through transport and connectivity, with a priority on people’s quality of life, safety and social equity. If you put it like this, connecting with the crowd makes perfect sense.”
From its ‘Clean Tyne’ project, to initiatives supporting outdoor play for youngsters, to workshops exploring cultural traditions, the Port of Tyne has a particularly well-established reputation for its support of the local community.
“We are a trust port but that does not, contrary to popular belief, oblige us to be involved in the community,” says director of corporate affairs, Susan Wear. “We get involved and provide support so that when we do well as a business, perhaps increasing our impact on local residents and communities, they also reap some of the benefit.
“We believe in good, modern business practice – if you want to be a thriving business and be here for the long term, you need a thriving community around you. That’s where your recruits for the future come from, where businesses will want to invest, where the entrepreneurs will thrive and stay and where people will want to live and visit – preferably on ferries and cruise ships. So we must invest in that community because it’s part of our business strategy and our selling offer – it makes us more competitive.”
The Port of Tyne has a 1% of profit fund and a specific small fund that directly supports two community facilities that neighbour the port – this fund is for projects that involve young people, strong communities and environmental projects, explains Ms Wear.
“Other elements of engagement, that is what we do as good neighbours, as any good business does, is support the activities and events that people attend and that bring regional or national acclaim to the area, all of which promotes the area we operate in, develops our profile as a good business and a good employer, and gives us a position of influence in the region and nationally, where we need to be able to contribute to policymaking and decisions that affect our business.”
Can the benefits of community involvement be measured in terms of return on investment? Financially, that can be difficult to measure. However, the Port of Tyne says that all support it gives comes with a contract that supports its marketing activity.
“For example, we are corporate partners with a local theatre and, in return, we get exposure for the port brand in their marketing and advertising, as well as opportunities for networking and entertaining customers, reduced rate room hire, and so on – in fact, we used the theatre as the venue for our AGM.”
The Port calculates the tangible benefits it delivers to stakeholders (customers, employees, business, government and the community) and presents these in its annual report as stakeholder benefits, or its return to stakeholders. However, it also measures and benchmarks its impact.
“We do this as members of the London Benchmarking Group of around 200 companies which provide a huge amount of data on the various activities and projects they undertake. We are in the top ten organisations in the country for the contribution we make as a percentage of our profit and we are rising up in terms of the impact we have – this is always difficult to measure, as it relies on community groups monitoring the outputs of grants, but they are good at demonstrating what they do with the support we give.”
There are multiple reasons why ports should be bothered to get communities involved, says Mr Jansen. “Ports around the world are increasingly seeking to limit negative externalities – in particular reducing the ecological burden of operations – and enhance positive externalities, i.e. optimising the social and economic effects of their operations.”
Governments around the world are embracing so-called inclusive growth policies and national port masterplans are increasingly aiming not only to make an economic impact but also to raise social and environmental standards, he says. As for quantifying the costs, in a direct sense all costs for public affairs and corporate social responsibility programmes should be factored in, says Mr Jansen. “But the more you engage with the community, the more people from within the port authority organisations will have a more direct relationship with the community and therefore spend more of their time on community building.”
Consider the 'crossover'
Rather than considering ROI in economic returns, the word ‘crossover’ is a better word in the context of port-city, he says – because there are mutual benefits.
Examples of unlocking such value might be World Port Days or innovation accelerator programmes such as hackathons, he says. “In the end, organisations who consider how they are competing in today’s marketplace always decide for themselves: am I fighting this battle alone, do I pick my battles and outsource them, or do I engage the crowd?”
Port cities are starting and continuing to put community involvement at the top of their agenda, says Greta Marini, strategic adviser at AIVP, the port cities network. “There is an important point to consider in terms of communication investment and outreach actions supported by ports,” she says. “Some big ports have huge expenditures – Rotterdam, Antwerp, Singapore, Vancouver, Haropa – especially if you consider the investments on a large scale including all kinds of community and outreach activities – education, festivals, open days, public consultations, dedicated staff for communication and animation actions all year long as in Vancouver, or some very specific actions such as Haropa’s painted containers land/sea art operation of three years ago.
“But what is changing in terms of involvement is how to consider port identity/culture as a challenge for all – port and city. For example, the idea of creating spaces, like port centres or community places where the potential of the port is explained as an engine for the whole territory – authorities, professionals, education sector should seize the opportunity to make this part of their DNA.”
She hopes to see more link between entertainment events and the idea of ‘getting smarter, learning and exchanging’, and also highlights hackathons as an example which does not apply only to children. Overall, she says, this should not be simply a matter or ports using community involvement ‘to defend their licences to operate’ – it should be a shared strategy.
AT THE HEART OF THE COMMUNITY
The Port of Tyne invested around £300,000 in cash and kind into the community in 2015, in projects that benefited 413 organisations and 620,813 people.
Among its initiatives are the Clean Tyne Project, in which the port and local councils work to clear the river clear of rubbish. As well as actual clearance, schools receive education packs which help to promote science, history, and health & safety.
A Play Map project raised the profile of play on a local housing estate, and worked to shift the community’s attitudes towards children and young people who play outside. A total 17 ‘play champions’ were trained and the project encouraged youngsters to take part in physical and intellectual activity in the safe environment of their own community.
The Sangini project carried out 26 creative workshops for 50 women and 400 young people, enabling them to explore their own and other cultural traditions in South Tyneside. This included a two-week exhibition in an ‘Indian home’ in an art gallery.
What are the port’s priorities when choosing community projects to support? The port's Susan Wear says: “Helping young people gain confidence for school and work, projects that sustain the environment, projects that help communities. We are at the heart of the community in South Shields and North Shields – the two sides of the river – and therefore prioritise projects located closer to the port, where people may feel more impact from noise, traffic, lights, etc. But we still support projects all over the Tyneside area.
“We also include volunteering and support in kind, such as opening lighthouses and the Swing Bridge to the public, providing free safety cover for river events and supporting other charities which support business, such as the Fish Quay Company, which provides services to the North Shields Fishing industry.”
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