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Houston Peschl is an entrepreneurship and sustainability instructor at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business. (HASKAYNE SCHOOL OF BUSINESS)
Houston Peschl is an entrepreneurship and sustainability instructor at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business. (HASKAYNE SCHOOL OF BUSINESS)

LEADERSHIP LAB

Four tips for earning your social licence Add to ...

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab

The need for corporations to become community leaders and gain a social licence to operate is intense. A social licence to operate exists when a project has continuing support and approval from the local community and, while intangible at times, the impact is powerful.

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This could mean being granted support as a leader and trusted member of the community. On the opposite end of that spectrum, failure to earn a social licence could mean shutdowns, boycotts, legal challenges and costly delays. Gaining or losing this support can result in the success or failure of major projects.

So, how do you earn a social licence to operate? What can you do to keep it?

Taking a creative approach, Calgary-owned and operated Village Brewery developed a community-based leadership model that resulted in both economic success and the ability to maintain their social licence to operate during a challenging time.

Following Village Brewery’s lead, here are four pieces of advice on gaining and maintaining your social licence to operate.

1. Collaborate to identify community needs

Find meaningful ways to engage with your community. Supporting local events and enhancing collaboration among community groups helps to create not only a strong marketing pipeline to your customers but shared value, where everyone benefits.

From the onset, Village Brewery sought to collaborate with its community. They formed a leadership team of 50 Beer Barons, a collection of community-minded, engaged citizens who represent many unique subcultures, who continually bring back new ideas Village Brewery could support.

Through this collaborative approach, Village Brewery quickly developed a loyal following of beer drinkers. These dedicated customers have shared their story on social media and through their personal networks, resulting in massive sales growth.

2. Support the needs of the community

Get to know what your community needs and find ways to meet those needs

Through the creation of a new beer called Village Gardener: Community Involved Ale, Village Brewery gave a group of inner city gardeners and beer enthusiasts the opportunity to develop a truly local ale by donating barley and hops grown in their own backyards. The brewery devoted a portion of the proceeds to a fundraiser in support of the Calgary Horticultural Society. Building on the project’s success, Village is now working to further increase the capacity of Calgary’s community gardens through a partnership with ATB Financial.

3. Have a mutual conversation

Engage in meaningful discussions that recognize opportunities and address concerns for both the community and your organization. Transparency is a vital tool to accomplish this.

Hosting a monthly community event at the brewery as well as broadcasting regular spots on Village Radio, featuring a variety of local guests, fosters regular, meaningful dialogue and helps to build stronger bonds. These events help achieve Village Brewery’s vision of gathering people around community, while creating a competitive advantage for the organization through differentiation from their competitors.

4. Do the right thing

Just because your organization has earned a social licence to operate and becomes an accepted community leader does not mean it will remain a leader. How you respond to a crisis can have an immediate impact on your standing with the community.

After receiving reports that a particular type of bottle was cracking and exploding, Village Brewery responded immediately, taking full responsibility while launching a recovery plan that involved recalling the bottles and providing full refunds. Today, the company is selling new and improved bottles and allowing customers to direct $1 of each sale to support one of three local theatre groups.

Village Brewery did the right thing. By taking responsibility for what happened and turning the incident into a positive, Village Brewery not only proved it is an ethical business, it further strengthened its social licence to operate and found a way to support the community at the same time.

A social licence to operate can be a major driver of growth and reputation, to the point where rapid growth becomes a challenge in its own right.

This is a welcome challenge, and could be discussed over a neighbourly pint of beer.

Houston Peschl is an entrepreneurship and sustainability instructor at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business (@haskayneschool). He is passionate about supporting the social enterprise community, and is currently launching the $20-million Calgary Poverty Reduction Fund to help prove that business can solve many of the world’s wicked problems.

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