Newcore Capital and Property Week are launching The Pro Bono Challenge at RESI this month.
The initiative came about after Liz Hamson and I were musing about how we could find out about and then showcase to the wider industry and world the good work that a lot of property companies, asset-backed corporates, funds and entrepreneurs do, on top of their usual for-profit business.
We both, to highlight the subtext behind this, are concerned that the wider view of the public about property developers and investors not caring much about society may have some justification and are keen to see if this can be proven wrong.
We have decided therefore to launch The Pro Bono Challenge. The aim is twofold: to evaluate how much pro bono work is currently being undertaken and by whom; and to challenge property companies to commit to one new pro bono property project or development.
We will shortly be sending out a survey to all major property investors and corporates in the UK, asking them to set out examples of work that they have undertaken outside the course of their normal for-profit business (and outside the requirements of any section 106 agreements, for example). They will be categorised as one of the following standards:
• Platinum: where a company’s money, time and workforce have been put to work on a completely pro bono basis to deliver a property- or industry-related project;
• Gold: where a company has deployed its time, money and workforce on a cost-only basis;
• Silver: where a company has deployed its time, money and workforce for a lower-than-market profit (but above cost);
• Bronze: where a company has undertaken a project that has genuine social value but that has delivered standard market returns.
We believe this will give us and Property Week’s audience a good handle on what ‘social impact’ really is. The term gets bandied about so much that it is hard not to become cynical about the motives of some marketing departments.
I have seen examples of purely for-profit social infrastructure funds being marketed as having positive social impact. I have had affirmations from developers that build retirement housing for rich people in rich areas that they are having a positive social impact as well as making a market profit. I don’t personally buy that.
Surely social impact in such a case would be providing good-quality retirement living in poor areas (you can’t do that for a market profit) where there really is a genuine crisis regarding suitable accommodation.
I wholly accept, though, that it is extremely difficult to know what a market standard of good practice is: how much time, skills, money and not-for-profit work any company should do in this current time.
Through this campaign, we hope to make a start on cataloguing, measuring and publicising this positive work, with wide-scale industry engagement.
We hope everyone will participate and have set up a website from which the survey can be downloaded and information on shared examples of good practice can be reviewed. We will also be writing to all the chief executives of material-sized UK property businesses to invite participation.
This is an opportunity for our sector to show that we can be a force for good. I hope that the industry will embrace it.
Hugo Llewelyn is managing director of Newcore Capital