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Mapping corporate philanthropy and community engagement in east London


Cathy McIlwaine, Jane Wills, Alison Blunt, Alastair Owens and Johanna Wadsley

The report can be found here:

Mapping corporate philanthropy [PDF 2,980KB]


The main aim of this pilot study was to analyse the evolving relationships between corporations based at Canary Wharf and east London communities over the past 20 years through a focus on corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities.


Corporations are deeply engaged in the well-being of communities in east London, particularly in education, training and the mentoring of young people.  But there are significant risks, particularly around sustainability, the selectivity of corporate initiatives and wider economic uncertainty.

The key players


  • Key CSR activities include financial contributions, pro bono services and allocated staff time for volunteering and mentoring.
  • Working with younger people is the main priority for companies.  
  • CSR has considerable benefits for companies such as opportunities for employee development


  • Community organizations in east London now work closely with a range of companies to access CSR resources in long term relationships.
  • Engagement with companies is in financial terms but also in changing perceptions and aspirations of people living in east London.

Mediating institutions

  • Brokering organizations highlight the needs of the community, act as intermediaries to foster and manage corporate-community relations, help to place volunteers, and assist in recruiting local people for employment.
  • Their role has changed over time, with some now delivering their own projects.  

CSR in east London

  • The juxtaposition of rich and poor is stark in east London, reinforcing a moral duty among companies and other actors to act. This echoes Victorian philanthropy.
  • Community organizations avoid controversial companies and those not involved for mutual and long-term benefit.
  • CSR work in east London offers corporations opportunities for progressive engagement with diversity.  
  • The spatial scope of CSR centres on Tower Hamlets and the ‘inner’ or ‘old’ east end.

Sustainable partnerships between corporations and communities

  • The move towards more targeted activities can have a detrimental effect on community organizations
  • Companies are not always willing or able to address the most pressing issues affecting east London, especially in relation to immigration and poverty.
  • But there are also long and sustainable relationships that can generate innovation.

Economic downturn and partnerships

  • Despite some reduction in volunteering numbers because of workforce redundancies, CSR remains active and positive in east London.
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