Agulhas and the ‘Employee Ownership Effect’

This year’s theme for EO day (Employee ownership day) on 23 June 2023, is the ‘#TheEOeffect’. Benefits of employee ownership often include more invested and fulfilled employees, businesses that have meaningful roots in their local areas and communities, and organisations that promote longer term investments in areas of social and environmental leadership.

For Agulhas, we have certainly seen and felt the #TheEOeffect on our business. An employee-spearheaded initiative to put Agulhas on the pathway towards B Corp certification has been both the culmination of, and a catalyst for, our ambition to be part of an inclusive, equitable and regenerative economy. Our B Corp certification will provide a tangible, verified measurement of Agulhas’ positive social and environmental impact. Through our Articles of Association, it formalises our commitment to transparency and equitable governance; a key part of the EO model. Going forward, it will inspire us all to take ownership of our Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) performance and be involved in improving this year on year. Our achievements will be transparently shared on the B Corp website. The investment of time and employee resources to gain B Corp certification has been managed by a working group of our co-owners’ forum; a part of Agulhas’ EO structure which enables employees to help shape the company’s strategic vision.

A further benefit of employee ownership is that, as a business, we are investing even more in our staff. In order to promote learning and personal growth, Agulhas recently provided professional confidence coaching for its employees. These private group sessions aim to build staff confidence in their skills and expertise, supporting their resilience and self-belief. Investment in people’s professional and personal growth, in addition to supporting technical upskilling, is something that has been inspired by employee-led inputs into our training opportunities. As a company, we know that supporting resilience is about more than feeling confident and enabled in our professional lives. Following recommendations from our wellness working group, under the co-owner’s forum, we have also invested more in the personal wellbeing of our staff, including stress management training and access to individual counselling sessions, provided as a flexible resource that is completely employee-initiated. The co-owners forum also saw the formation of an analyst-led working group to address employee concerns about the cost of living crisis in 2022. The group continues to be in dialogue with senior leadership, finding practical ways to address this.

#TheEOeffect is wider than the benefits to Agulhas’ staff. Our discussions about being employee owned, what that means for us, and what that means for our business have also inspired us to think more about how we share our values and collaborate with partners and stakeholders. We continue to strengthen our collaborative processes for research and analysis, building and maintaining strong and equitable partnerships with like-minded organisations in low- and middle-income countries. Employee-led investment of time and energy into social impact endeavours has spurred Agulhas to invest further in supporting high-profile, global initiatives, such as gLOCAL evaluation week and Youth in Evaluation week. These world-wide learning events have been an opportunity for Agulhas staff to work with our partners and stakeholders to share learning and to gain knowledge and insights from others. As a company, we are now better positioned to support projects that align with Agulhas’ shared values. Through these initiatives, and others like them, we will continue to promote collaborative and equitable approaches to tackling global challenges.

Agulhas’ long-standing practice of investing in charities, based in and serving our local community, has been reinforced since we became an employee-owned trust. How best to support local charities, not just financially but through offering our time and skills, has been a key part of the co-owners’ forum discussions and direction-setting. All staff are able to vote on which charities are supported by Agulhas, financially and with volunteering hours where possible. Since becoming employee owned, we have provided pro bono support to the Happy Baby Community, a community organisation for refugee and migrant women who are pregnant or with small children, to support their impact monitoring and reporting. Our team has also dramatically increased our package of support to the Hoxton Trust, a charity that is a ten-minute walk from our offices in North East London. In addition to financial donations to support their legal work in the community, we have spent many employee hours volunteering to help build green spaces in the Hoxton Garden, including an orchard, new composting area, and an allotment area for community food planting. Choosing to move from simply assisting our charities financially to providing a set of support that incorporates voluntary assistance, based on ongoing conversations and relationship building, has been an employee-driven scheme. Volunteering days are often enjoyed as a team-building experience with social activities planned afterwards. Through our relationship with the Hoxton Trust, not only do we support our local community and environment, but employee’s wellbeing is supported by an experience in nature and helping to create green, communal spaces.

These are just some of the benefits we are already seeing from #TheEOeffect – and we have only formally been employee owned for just over two years. As we look to the future, we will no doubt discover further benefits (and perhaps also challenges) that we had not foreseen when we became employee owned. The sector is still young, but growing rapidly. We look forward to seeing how other employee-owned businesses benefit and thrive from their ownership structure.

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