Working on Purpose

I spent an evening at ‘Women Leading the Future of Business with Purpose’ hosted by Impact Hub Islington, surrounded by like-minded women, all of us unable to resist an event which contained ‘leading’, ‘future’ and ‘purpose’ in the title. We were there to listen to speakers discuss how to make business as usual more purposeful.

Working on Purpose

Here at The Leading Edge, we believe purpose should be at the core of a business or a brand. Purpose doesn’t need to be lofty or ‘game-changing’ and fundamentally, it shouldn’t be a compromise on profit. Purpose is simply something that the business stands for - that gives it a sense of direction and a reason to be.

In a world where confidence in government is at an all-time low, businesses are in a powerful position to tackle the social, economic and environmental issues society faces – whether it’s in the large-scale campaigns and projects that change lives, or the simple, everyday way you make people's worlds better. 

Businesses are in a powerful position to tackle the social, economic and environmental issues society faces

The event, organised by NatWest Business Growth Enablers sought to discuss and debate the impact of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals on the business world today and in the future, as well as how businesses address these goals and embed purpose while still making a profit.

In the discussion, four learnings stood out:

The time is now
The business case for ‘purpose’ has been made. Customers are demanding it (with increased awareness of the issues and more options to choose from), shareholders want it (in the knowledge that purpose-led organisations outperform those without), and employers need it (to attract the best talent seeking careers that matter). This is the time for businesses to take ‘purpose’ to the next level.

It starts with human-sized change
By empowering individuals you empower institutions. One of the speakers, Rachel Whale, CEO of Koreo, believes that talent is the solution. Koreo is working to refine the very nature of work, with a mission to make social impact part of everyone’s job, not a siloed role that’s a bolt-on to the ‘real’ business.

Purpose comes from the inside-out
Purpose needs to be authentic and come from within. If your ‘purpose’ is disconnected from what your business does day-to-day, it will smack of ‘green-washing’. Authenticity is the key to a competitive edge. 

It’s not about your own agenda
Whilst sticking to our principles, we need to learn how to flex them to talk in the terms of the businesses we’re working with. As one of the panellists, Meryam Omi, Head of Sustainability and Responsible Investment Strategy, said, sometimes it’s about working with nimble organisations that are ‘speedboats’ setting their own path, but other times it’s about ‘changing the direction of the oil tankers’, slowly shifting the approach of the world’s largest, most complex businesses. Real change comes through collaboration and two-way conversations, with people listening as much as speaking to find solutions that will work for purpose and profit.

Purpose can’t simply be a ‘box-ticking’ CSR exercise or a 'soft' KPI

Purpose can’t simply be a ‘box-ticking’ CSR exercise and making a difference in the world shouldn’t be seen as a ‘soft’ KPI. Purpose is about having a meaningful role in peoples’ lives – and it helps grow your bottom line.

Here’s to a future where it’s no longer up for debate that ‘doing good’, in whatever shape or size that might be, can be commercially sustainable.