Recently I was presenting a summary of my Fitness Sector Social Good Report to representatives of the UK fitness industry. During questions, I was asked if there was evidence that being perceived as a compassionate and generous business generated a commercial return to the organisation. Do customers, staff and other stakeholders really care that an organisation is using its resources to solve social inequalities that may seem unconnected to its core business?
I was surprised by the question because the fitness sector is driven by an altruistic purpose – it exists to help others. Meanwhile businesses such as TOMS thrive because compassion and generosity are their ‘weapons of choice’ in the fiercely competitive world of shoes and eyewear, where their ‘buy one, we donate one’ is transforming lives and industries.
So this month, I want to share a story of how UK-based Mosaic Spa & Health Clubs (Mosaic) is using compassion to reinvigorate a 27-year-old business whose sense of purpose and direction had become lost following its sale to a publicly listed company.
Resetting the compass
Founded in 1987, by 2001 Fitness Express was operating 14 hotel-based health clubs across the UK, employing 300 staff. Demand for its friendly and personalised gyms was growing and the business was acquired by Crown Sports.
For three years, Fitness Express founders Dave Courteen and Steve Taylor adjusted to a listed company culture. However, business now felt very different and they yearned for their independence, so in 2004 they bought back the business.
“We had just bought the business back and found our original vision and mission had got a little lost. A friend told me about the charity Compassion, and I arranged to meet with its director to find out more,” says Courteen.
Releasing children from poverty
Compassion is an international Christian child development and child advocacy ministry, which for more than 60 years has been driven by the mission to free children from poverty. Its programmes focus on the spiritual, economic, social and physical needs of children through all stages of development, from age two to 24 years. It focuses its efforts in 26 of the world’s poorest countries.
In a world where more than a billion children live on less than US$2 a day, Compassion believes connecting one child with one sponsor is the most strategic way to end childhood poverty. Its Child Sponsorship Programme aims to provide long-term funding for food, health, hygiene and education.
For Mosaic – the new parent company brand for Fitness Express since 2011 – writing the occasional cheque to the charity was never going to be enough, and so it was the child sponsorship programme it focused on. Staff at Fitness Express and Imagine Spa, the company’s two operating businesses, were invited to suggest a single country on which to concentrate their support. Uganda was eventually chosen from a shortlist of six countries.
A long-term commitment
Child sponsorship is no fleeting ice bucket challenge, as lifting children out of poverty takes patience and long-term funding. Mosaic agreed that, for every club and spa it operates, it would clothe, feed and educate a child in Uganda.
Mosaic’s corporate mission is ‘making a difference to people’s lives’, so this programme is perfectly aligned with the work it undertakes every day in its clubs.
As I write, the lives of 30 Ugandan children are being forever changed thanks to the compassion and generosity of Mosaic’s staff and members. Over the past nine years of the partnership, the company has been quietly supporting 40 children and has invested £100,000.
Staff & member engagement
Each Fitness Express club has a Compassion board on display, to show how their sponsored child is progressing and to encourage members to participate. Staff write to sponsored children, send birthday cards and Christmas gifts, and the children write back depending on their literacy.
The clubs are encouraged to raise funds for the project over and above their sponsorship for individual children; this pays for additional clothes, food and education. Members have also been inspired to directly sponsor other children, thereby creating a wider ripple effect. Meanwhile, in-club fundraising has provided more than £40,000 to help fund improvements in the communities where these children live, including a new playground to promote their physical and emotional development.
As Taylor says: “The Compassion initiative has been successful in providing a focus for Mosaic, its staff and customers to work together to achieve something that’s very worthwhile. The visit of three of our managers to Uganda was also very powerful in the staff engagement process.”