Retailers can inspire change by putting something back into local communities, says Mark Price

In January I was pleased to accept, from outgoing chairman Sir Stuart Rose, the chairmanship of Business in the Community (BITC), the responsible business charity. For the past 29 years BITC has been advising, supporting and challenging its members to create a sustainable future for people and the planet while improving business performance.

BITC works with its members to define what responsibility looks like for business in the community, environment, marketplace and workplace.

I have been involved for many years, chairing the Prince’s rural campaign from 2008 until 2010. and was privileged to be the founding chair of the Prince’s Countryside Fund. I am excited to become chairman at such a challenging time. BITC was created in the early 1980s in response to the riots that rocked many inner city communities.

Businesses then realised that in order to have a healthy high street they needed to invest in their local communities. Now too businesses understand that the communities in which they exist are facing tough times and, more than ever, business has a critical role.

Last December BITC consulted with business leaders in many sectors and asked them what role they could play in contributing to the Government’s vision of a Big Society.

The Big Society may remain an ambiguous term for many, but BITC believes that the role of business is easy to understand. Years of experience of working closely with business and communities has provided many examples of innovative and successful business action that has had a real impact on the lives of people.

BITC is now focused on how it can scale-up the work it has led so that those communities of greatest need are supported. Whether this is extending the reach of the BITC campaign Business Action on Homelessness, that over the past 10 years has supported 2,000 homeless people into work through the support of businesses such as Barclays and Marks & Spencer, or replicating the project UBS, Linklaters and Deutsche Bank have led in London’s Shoreditch, where a seconded post has connected the needs of the local community with thousands of volunteers from businesses over the past five years.

There’s no shortage of other ways to get involved. Cares, for example, is a national campaign aimed at giving employees the opportunity to volunteer in their local community, Work Inspiration Insights sets out to improve the first experience of work for young people and Business Class takes support from business into the classroom.

We are in uncertain times when many sectors of society will be pushed to breaking point. At Waitrose - where the business is owned by the people who work in it - we share the responsibilities of ownership as well as its rewards. And a key responsibility, in particularly sharp focus this year, is to contribute to the well-being of the communities we serve.

I am pleased to be chairing an organisation that shares our Partnership values and has the experience, knowledge and passion to galvanise business to make a difference.

Mark Price is managing director of Waitrose