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Jak Phillips Global B2B Content Manager at Les Mills interviews Ray Algar, founder of Gymtopia, about the fitness industry’s approach and track-record on corporate social responsibility.

By its very nature the fitness industry supports a healthier planet, but in an age of heightened social awareness, growing inequality and intense scrutiny of business ethics, is this still enough? We spoke to fitness and philanthropy expert Ray Algar, who says that in order to truly thrive in a post-recession, the fitness industry must move beyond memberships and P&L, and strive for a greater social purpose.

As a big advocate of corporate social responsibility, how do you define it?

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is when social and environmental issues are strategically woven deep into the mission of a business and interactions with all their stakeholders. The business is economically viable but simultaneously aware of its wider social responsibilities. So we can picture three spinning plates – economic, social and environmental and a ‘responsible’ business is simultaneously managing all three.

By stakeholder, do you mean investors?

A ‘stakeholder’ is any person or organisation who impact or are impacted by the business. So, the narrow definition would be investors, customers and employees. However, a wider definition encompasses the wider community, journalists, suppliers, friends of employees and even competitors. John Muir the Pioneering preservationist once said: ‘When you tug at a single thing in nature, you find it connected to the rest of the world.’ I think this is a lovely metaphor for contemporary business. The most successful businesses recognise that stakeholders are inter-connected and that actions can quickly ripple from one group to another.

Can we describe charity-giving as summing up the essence of CSR?

There is probably a misunderstanding that charity-giving and CSR are one and the same thing. However, a simple donation to charity demonstrates how a business chooses to spend a part of its profits and not how they are first generated. TOMS, by contrast, is a very interesting business which has embedded CSR deep into its mission. Blake Mycoskie founded TOMS following a visit to Argentina where he witnessed that the lack of shoes was preventing children from attending school. With no experience in the shoe industry he created a for-profit business based on a one-for-one model – for every pair of shoes purchased, one pair is donated. Working with humanitarian organisations, TOMS has now donated more than 60 million pairs of shoes. These shoes are often sustainably produced in the country of need which helps to also create employment. TOMS has kick-started a global ‘one-for-one’ movement across many industries and has itself now also moved into eyewear – one bought pair of glasses funds one sight-saving surgery.

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