Monday 14 March 2016 4:15 am

How City firms are using innovation to combat societal challenges

My mayoral theme “Innovate here, Succeed anywhere” reflects the reputation of the City and the UK for creative energy. From baristas to barristers, professional services to everyday services, innovation means success – both in and out of the office. Strong and healthy commerce depends on strong and healthy communities – and yet many areas of London have the highest levels of unemployment, social exclusion and child poverty in the UK. How can business innovation combat these societal challenges? How can we ensure that the dynamism and prosperity generated in the Square Mile meets the needs on our doorstep?

I want to see London firms engaging with their communities in innovative and enduring ways – mobilising their resources and workforce to make targeted, practical contributions. Many charities and community organisations are crying out for the professional expertise – legal, accountancy, project-management – which business-volunteers can provide. The private sector can make a tremendous difference by identifying gaps, pioneering new policies, and working with under-represented groups.

Take Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, winner of a Lord Mayor’s Dragon Award 2015. Its Ready for Work programme helps disadvantaged people gain and sustain employment, including those who are hardest to reach, such as homeless people and ex-offenders. Freshfields was one of the first firms to sign up to the “Ban the Box” campaign – opening up its recruitment process so that individuals are assessed on their ability and qualifications and not discounted due to an unrelated conviction. This was an unprecedented step forward for the industry and a huge encouragement for other firms undertaking similar activity. Freshfields has shown it can be done! And this investment is in all our interests, as studies have shown that employment cuts the likelihood of reoffending by up to 50 per cent.

The 2015 Awards were filled with fantastic programmes like Freshfields’ and, in total, last year’s entrants supported almost 300,000 Londoners. This year’s Lord Mayor’s Dragon Awards opened for applications earlier this month so I am calling on you, London’s businesses of all sizes and from all sectors, to use the Awards as a platform to celebrate and drive “responsible business innovation”.

I am particularly interested in hearing from small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), as I know their innovative initiatives are often excellent examples of how pinpointing precise need can reap enormous reward. Over the past three years, 47 per cent of business Award winners have been SMEs, showing size is no barrier to successful community programmes.

We also want to recognise the community contributions of the widest possible range of firms within the City’s unique cluster of professional services, not least our burgeoning and world-beating technology sector. From fintech to augmented reality classrooms, London’s Tech City is nurturing the pioneering innovations which will support the stability and success of our society. Last year, IBM won a Dragon Award for its terrific teacher-training programme – equipping them to educate students on the new computing curriculum. Meanwhile, Aimia won for its work supporting a range of charities on data analytics, enabling them to better access funding. Over £2.5m of new funding was secured for these charities as a result of data insights provided.

Applications for this year’s Awards are open for another seven weeks, closing on 25 April. I would encourage all London’s responsible businesses tackling local community need to apply today. We look forward to celebrating your important investment in your workforce, in our communities, and in all our futures.

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