26 06 2013

Committed_to_Equality_1I haven’t written on the value to business of understanding equality for a while however an email exchange from this morning leaves me compelled to wonder whether many still view it as something not worth the bother.

There are many very good reasons to ensure that your business takes Equality seriously. Of course, the biggest driver for many is the desire not to fall foul of the law even if, at the back of their minds, many view meeting the requirements of the Equality Act (2010) as little more than red tape.

It would be nice to believe that in the 21st century laws to ensure access to equal treatment for all are not necessary and that we all seek to accommodate our fellow human beings as best we possibly can. Sadly that is not the case and I am not naïve enough to believe it is.

That does not mean most people deliberately put barriers in the way of others. What does happen is that ignorance drives practice and the right questions are not asked, reasonable solutions not found. For that is all that the 2010 Act requires; that reasonable adjustments be made.

But other than the legal and the ‘human’ reasons for trying to provide equal access to all for your company or organisation there is another; good business practice. It might sound obvious but I will say it anyway, the easier it is for more people to access your company or organisation, the more likely it is they will use your products or services.

Which brings me back to that email exchange from this morning…..

I will shortly be acting as an expert witness in a court case. While most know me as an expert in Strategy, in this case I will be appearing specifically as an expert in Equality Strategy. Earlier today I received an email from a solicitor asking that I pass comment on a document he had prepared for the Court. He was keen that if we were to be arguing a case based on equality, any documents submitted must reflect both expertise and belief in that area.

The content of both the solicitor’s email and the attachment read well and were factually correct, however both fell short of his aim due to his poor choice of font. I commented as such, suggested a different font and advised him why it made a difference.

His reply interested me. The attached document was now presented in a good, accessible font. However his email remained in the original font. I remarked on this over the phone and, to paraphrase his reply, was told, “Oh, that’s okay, the Court won’t see that.”

This attitude is not uncommon in businesses and organisations in all sectors. Government departments, local government, charities, sports clubs and others all discriminate against significant sections of society because they can’t be bothered to change once their ‘ignorances’ are pointed out to them.

The law requires reasonable adjustments be made. I believe changing the default font setting on emails is reasonable. I do not believe that not being bothered is but, to date, no test case has been brought to support my view.

But beyond the law, what about running a successful business, department, charity, club or whatever? Does it make sense to deliberately make it more difficult for large parts of society to work with you? Does it make sense not to make access as easy as competitors who do make reasonable adjustments? Does it make sense not to steal a march on competitors who do not make those reasonable adjustments?

You tell me. The example of the poor choice of font used above could negatively impact on dyslexics accessing and making use of that solicitor’s services. Ten percent of the population are dyslexic, 4% severely so. Even at four percent, that is potentially 2.4 million customers (UK) you are gifting to your competitors. Why? Because you can’t be bothered.

The Equality Act of 2010 is the legal driver behind businesses and organisations in all sectors making reasonable adjustments which will provide improved access for all. Some call it red tape, I prefer to think of it as acting like a decent human being.

But even if the legal and the human reasons don’t drive you to reasonable adjustment, maybe the business case should?

If you can be bothered.


If you would like to find out more about this topic and/or would like to discuss arranging an Equality Audit for your business or organisation, please drop me a line to the email address below.

Also on Equality:

Equality – No Room For Excuses (2012)

Equality and Ignorance Driven Insanity in Business (2012)

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, June 2013

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27 01 2013

His Masters VoiceAs more household names disappear from our High Streets on a seemingly weekly basis, it is time for that sector to start basing their strategies in reality and not in some fantasy world which doesn’t exist or in some bygone day which is not returning.

During 2012, I saw a sharp increase in organisations from one particular sector coming to me for advice and support in developing new strategies to carry them safely into the future. These organisations were seeing their world changing and historic certainties had become present day doubts almost overnight. Their world was changing and their strategies needed to reflect that fact if they were to have a safe, healthy future.

The sector I refer to is the Third Sector, that area made up of charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises although the description of a sector facing a new world of uncertainty after decades of security could as easily fit the High Street.

The key challenge, among many, faced by the Third Sector organisations that came to me was that of reduced funding. Government and local authorities have drastically cut what funding they have available for the sector while other funders have found resources limited by a range of issues brought about by the ongoing downturn in local, national and international economies.

In order to continue with levels of service, care, development and intervention provided during the last decade, these organisations are facing a stark choice; diversify your income streams or shrink and possibly die.

Of course, I have come across organisations unwilling to change. Prepared to cross their fingers and hope the next funding bid is successful rather than plan for life in their new reality.

The parallels with the High Street are uncanny. We see a minority of businesses adapting to changing consumer habits and tighter consumer budgets while others close their eyes, cross their fingers and plan for a world where consumer habits are unaffected by the internet age and disposable income has been unaffected by the economic crisis.

The strategies of these companies are based in fantasy, a place in which no successful strategy will ever be based. Good strategy is of the real world. It is, of course, informed by the past but it is not dictated to by history. The place a good strategy is taking you is the future and a better future at that.

Next time a High Street chain closes and blames consumers for shopping on-line; instead of blame they should ask themselves if they were aware habits had changed why their strategy had not reflected this reality. And, if they were not aware, why not?

The Third Sector is grasping the fact that the world is a changed place from even five years ago. The High Street chains need to do the same, and quickly, before more household names go the way of Jessops, HMV, Comet, Blockbuster and far too many others.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, January 2013

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11 07 2012

Walking from London to Lincoln

 Martin Hunt (pictured left) is the kind of person you probably pass and occasionally meet every day. He works hard at his job (he is a personal trainer), he loves his family and likes to try to do the right thing by others.

I first met Martin over 20 years ago when we were both athletes and about two years ago we reconnected through Facebook.

In the intervening years Martin has had a family and built a business. Nothing unusual there.

What marks Martin out as different, as a very special human being, is the efforts he goes to for charity. He recently announced that he will be walking from London to Lincoln to raise funds for two causes particularly close to his heart and I offered him some space here on the Cowan Global blog to let you know what he is doing and why he is doing it.

A modest man, he sent me the following email:

Hi Jim,

Here is a few words about my walk at the end of this month.

I am walking from London to Lincoln on the 27th July to raise money for my 7 year old twin nephews Nicky & Daniel, Nicky has a deletion of Chromosome 7, whilst Daniel suffers from Williams syndrome. This walk also follows up my walk from London to Birmingham in under 48 hours back in March 2012 for Autism, as I have an Autistic son (Myles, 4 years) I have many more walks planned in the near future. There is a lot of ignorance on society and I think we ‘able bodied’ people take many things for granted of just how lucky we are, so to me it’s easy for me to get walking.

I am open to any ideas of support from people and I am trying to get people to possibly split any donations between the 2 charities.

The links are:

http://www.justgiving.com/oraclefitness4unique (Unique is a Rare Chromosome Disorder Support Group)

http://www.justgiving.com/oraclefitness4williams (The Williams Syndrome Foundation)

In the picture of the twins: Daniel is on the left and Nicky is on the right.


Web: www.oraclefitness.co.uk

Blog: http://www.oraclefitness.blogspot.co.uk/

Twitter: @oraclefitness

Many small steps become Big Leaps!

Please consider supporting Martin on his walk by pledging a few pounds (or a few pence) via the Just Giving links above. If you can circulate news of his effort among your networks, even better.

Good luck Martin.

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, July 2012

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31 05 2012

Photo: The Telegraph

There are few advantages to having an incompetent government however one is the learning they frequently provide not just in politics but in business and in life in general (as often highlighted in this blog).

The latest lesson provided by the UK’s government follows today’s announcement of a U-turn on the so-called ‘Charity Tax’ which had been announced in the last budget. This lesson is one which will reduce resource wastage while providing significantly improved decision-making and strategy through simply being better informed.

Consultation’ – it is a well-used word. It describes an action which, when undertaken well, informs us and allows us to make sound decisions based on quality data. It can be as simple as asking your friends what they would like to drink before going to the bar. It can be as complex as understanding the rule book, the competition and the science before designing next season’s Formula One car. In both instances the outcomes will undoubtedly be of far higher quality if the information required is gathered before embarking on the task rather than after. In both instances foresight informs sound decisions where hindsight tells you where you went wrong.

No organisation or group whether business, government or friends at the local will devise high quality strategy without being sufficiently well-informed on relevant topics whether they be markets, competitors, public opinion or whether your friend wants whisky or vodka.

In its last budget, the UK Government announced a cap on the tax-relief for philanthropic donations. The government saw this as closing a tax loop-hole but, unfortunately for them, neither the British public nor the affected charities saw it this way. It did not take very long before the (populist) intention of collecting more tax revenue from millionaires was rebranded by public, charities and media alike as a tax on charity and the term ‘Charity Tax’ was born.

It was never going to be a popular measure and, bowing to public pressure, the government agreed to consult. The result of that consultation is today’s U-turn announcement with Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne saying; “it is clear from our conversations with charities that any kind of cap could damage donations, so we’ve listened.”

But here’s a thought George, next time why not consult with those likely to be affected before making the announcement, prior to drafting policy, doing the sums and telling the nation in your budget speech?

This is today’s lesson for business (and others) courtesy of HM Government: The best time to consult on direction, new policy, product launches, customer wants and needs and…….pretty much everything else except reaction, is before committing.

In business terms we need to know whether a new product is wanted or needed, how much people will pay, what, where and who the competition are, etc, etc, etc. Get it wrong and it can be a very expensive process, if not financially almost certainly in wasted time (which will have a value whether costed or not).

In the Third Sector, without consulting fully and properly with (for example) volunteers before taking decisions can have disastrous effects as a workforce paid in-kind by their passion, turn their backs and walk away. All for the sake acting proactively and asking in advance in place of reacting and asking different questions after making an uninformed or ill-informed decision. It is the difference between; “what do you enjoy about volunteering and helping us out?” and “why did you stop coming along to help?” It is basic; it is Consultation 101.

If you are developing a new strategy (or revising an existing one), devising a new policy or making any choices, the time to consult is before you make the important decisions at a time when gathering intelligence and collecting data will help to inform your decision-making process; the better the consultation, the less the likelihood of getting decisions wrong.

Cut corners when consulting or avoid it altogether and the end result is the same whether government, business or trip to the bar; decisions based on narrow opinion, guess-work and little else.

There is a well-worn phrase which describes this perfectly – “look before you leap!”

Or, as I frequently remind clients; there is no such thing as a stupid question. The stupid thing is not asking the questions to which you need answers at the time you need them in order to inform your decisions.

Who’s going to tell George?

© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, May 2012

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22 05 2012

Over the past couple of months, as my fiftieth birthday has been approaching, I have given some thought to how I would like to mark reaching my half century. At the same time, I have been asked more than a few times what I would like to receive as a birthday present.

I’m hoping I have come up with an answer to both questions which will also be something many others will want to be a part of…..

I’m immensely proud (even though it is one of the seven deadly sins) of the fact that I have been able to devise, launch and manage a number of events over the years that have raised in excess of £1/2 Billion for good causes. But that figure also comes as a result of being someone who is fortunate to have the occasional good idea along with the ability to turn the idea into reality.

Many others work just as hard, if not harder to do their bit for charity, raising a few pounds, dollars or euros to hundreds to thousands and more. Not a single penny of it is more or less important than another penny. Every effort in support of a good cause is as valuable as any other.

As I hit 50 today (22nd May) it strikes me that 50 is quite a good number to use as a theme for support for charity, for good causes and for those less well off than us. It is a theme which needs no organiser just a collective desire to do good. If already a fundraiser or donator, a little more good; if not, an easy place to start.

Let me explain.

Fifty pence (or fifty cents); what is it worth, what does it buy? Not a lot on its own but put enough 50 pences together and very soon it becomes a sum of money which makes a difference.

If everybody in the UK donated an extra 50 pence a week to a good cause, approx. £30 million more would be raised every week – that’s £1.560 Billion a year!

If everybody in the USA donated an extra 50 cents a week to a good cause, approx. $155 million more would be raised every week – that’s $8.060 Billion a year!

The value of fifty pence and/or fifty cents starts to look very different.

But value in anything isn’t just about money. Let’s look at it another way. If we take the UK National Minimum Wage of £6.19 (from October 2012) then 50 pence represents a near as doesn’t matter 5 minutes. Can you spare 5 minutes a week to help a good cause? How about giving that disabled neighbour a lift to the shops or spending five minutes just dropping in to check the elderly couple up the road are okay.

It’s not much is it? It doesn’t even cost you money. And yet if we all gave 50 pence of our money or 5 minutes of our time to make the world a better place each week, the value would be £/$ Billions every year.

It’s a very small, very easy way to be part of something huge. It’s a very small, very easy way to be part of something that can make a difference.

What do I want as a present to mark my fifty years on the planet?

Not much. Fifty pence or cents or your money. 5 minutes of your time. Each week.

Let’s spread the word. What do you say?


© Jim Cowan, Cowan Global Limited, May 2012

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1 04 2012

Cerebral Palsy Sport have places available for The Great North Swim, the UK’s largest outdoor swimming event. It is a one mile swim in beautiful Lake  Windermere, Cumbria on Saturday 23th & Sunday 24th June 2012.

The event provides the opportunity to experience the thrill of open-water swimming in a safe environment and knowing you are raising vital funds for children with cerebral palsy at the same time.

CP Sport is a national charity that is dedicated to providing opportunities for those with cerebral palsy to fulfil their potential through sport, and was the starting-point for a number of GB competitors who will be taking part in this year’s Paralympics.

To register your interest for this popular event, please get in touch by calling Marianne on 0115 925 2620 or emailing at mknight@cpsport.org.

To find out more about CP Sport and how you can support them please visit www.cpsport.org.


16 01 2012

I’m very fortunate to have some exceptionally talented friends. One of them, Dionne Ible, is a mosaicist and makes the most fantastic mosaics. When I heard that Dionne was making an Eyes of Nepal mosaic to raise funds for the Esther Benjamin Trust I thought you might be interested to read a little about it and asked Dionne to send me a message to share. 

Jim Cowan, Cowan Global.

Hi Friends!

As a mosaicist I have decided to take part in a charity project to make a small mosaic for the new Mosaic Art Charity Project “Eyes of Nepal”. The mosaic will be part of a display in a leading hotel in Kathmandu, where mosaic artists have the opportunity to exhibit their work permanently.

The aim of this project is to raise funds for the Esther Benjamins Trust (www.ebtrust.org.uk) which has a mosaic studio in Nepal providing essential employment for young workers rescued as children by the Trust. (see video at http://www.justgiving.com/EYESOFNEPAL).

The funds from this project will be used for operational and material costs at the Bhairahawa integrated mosaic centre, where deaf school-leavers work alongside trafficking survivors and in support of mosaics that are being made for public display. Their latest project is the creation of a wall mosaic with a message at a school.

I am asking if you could sponsor my mosaic to raise £120 or more which will then go towards a target figure of £12,000 for the Trust.

You can follow my mosaic progress on my page.

Visit http://www.justgiving.com/EYESOFNEPAL  to read more about how to donate the money. All about the trust on: http://www.ebtrust.org.uk/

Visit http://web.me.com/karladuterloo/riotofcolours/Eyes_of_Nepal.html BLOG to read all the information and updates about the MosaicArt Charity “Eyes of Nepal”

© Dionne Ible, Qemamu Mosaics, January 2012

Find out more about Dionne’s company, Qemamu Mosaics, here

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