Here. For a Social Purpose.

By Renata Lima, Marketing & Communications Coordinator, United Way British Columbia

November 14, 2022

In an increasingly turbulent world, having a compelling north star that benefits society, stakeholders, and the company at hand creates a pathway to business and societal success. In fact, companies whose purpose is a core driver of strategy are more likely to realize successful innovation and consistent revenue growth than their competitors.* 

A “social purpose business” is a company whose enduring reason for existing is to create a better world. United Way BC founded the United Way BC Social Purpose Institute (UW SPI) to foster its vision of a healthy, caring, inclusive community by supporting businesses to unleash their social purposes.  

Companies with a social purpose are an engine for good by the very act of conducting business. Their growth is a positive force in society. As the social purpose company prospers, its stakeholders and the communities in which it operates prosper too. Through educational programs and services, UW SPI helps companies define their social purpose or “North Star” and embed their social purpose with internal and external stakeholders.  

“As a social purpose company, we’re harnessing all our enterprise capabilities, talents, and resources to build better futures together. We believe social purpose is the business model the world needs to tackle the complex, systemic issues we face today. We are excited to support efforts to grow the purpose economy in Canada,” says Maureen Young, Vice President of Social Purpose at Coast Capital

Unlike CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) which resides in a department of a business, a social purpose company embeds its purpose at the top of the organization; driving strategy, values, and culture. A company’s social purpose brings alignment, to a business which helps to propel employee attraction and retention, collaboration, and innovation with external stakeholders.   

The Business Sector’s Role in Building a Better World 

In January 2016, the United Nations launched the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – an ambitious set of goals aimed to banish many social challenges by 2030. “The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are our shared vision of humanity and a social contract between the world’s leaders and the people,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon about the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted unanimously by 193 Heads of State and other top leaders.** 

Without the private sector’s commitment, investment, and influence, achieving the Sustainable Development Goals would be impossible. Companies from all over the world will need to step up and play a major role in addressing the challenges. 

The urgency in redefining the role of business in society is clear. Companies started to perceive it several years ago when the concept of CSR was first introduced back in the early ‘90s, but eventually, it was transitioned to something broader: ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance).  

But what about social purpose? What’s the difference between ESG and social purpose? How do they interrelate? This alphabet soup of acronyms is still confusing. In order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, it is of the utmost importance to clarify how these two forces often conflate and how it can be crucial for businesses, especially considering that purpose and ESG usually compete for attention inside companies.  

Charla Vall, founder & Principal at Vall Impact Company, wrote an article for which she interviewed three industry experts to explain the relationship between corporate Purpose and ESG, and how best to prioritize and embed them within an organization.***  

Her main conclusions are outlined here: 

  • “Purpose, as a company’s guiding North Star, should always come first when making strategic business decisions — including which ESG commitments to emphasize. Some ESG commitments, however, must be prioritized regardless of how they relate to purpose.” 
  • “Purpose can illuminate which ESG areas to focus on, but some ESG commitments need to be a priority, even if they fall beyond the scope of the company’s purpose.” 
  • “Purpose and ESG strategies are both critical to becoming a thriving, resilient business that benefits, rather than harms, society.” 
  • “Purpose is about using a business unique asset to drive positive societal impact by the very act of doing business, whereas ESG is focused on reducing environmental and social risks incurred through the act of doing business.”  

Purpose in Business Week – A Simple Way to Be Part of the Change  

Whether your company already has a social purpose or is on the path to creating it, you’re welcome to join social purpose champions across Canada in celebrating #PurposeinBusinessWeek from November 14-18. You can help mainstream this concept in business by sharing your social purpose journey, declaring your organization’s commitment to the Purpose Economy, or simply supporting the initiative.  

We encourage any organization or individual to make a purpose-related announcement on their social channels during these five days, using the hashtag #PurposeinBusinessWeek.  

Examples can include: 

  • your social purpose journey and statement, 
  • a new Purpose initiative, 
  • the impact your social purpose has had since its adoption, 
  • white paper/research release on some aspect of purpose, 
  • a new commitment, policy, or activity, 
  • new social purpose partnership, 
  • or simply a declaration of support for Social Purpose in Business.  

Feel free to let us know your announcements in advance (engage@socialpurpose.ca) and tag us in your posts, as we would love to help amplify your message. 

Hashtags and Handles: 

Share your purpose commitment! Together we can create a national buzz around Social Purpose and generate a new force for purpose-driven business practices.  

SOURCES: 

*Harvard Business Review, 2015; HTTP://WWW.EY.COM/PUBLICATION/VWLUASSETS/EY-THE-BUSINESS-CASE-FOR-PURPOSE/$FILE/EY-THE-BUSINESS-CASE-FOR-PURPOSE.PDF 

** https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2015/12/sustainable-development-goals-kick-off-with-start-of-new-year/ 

*** https://sustainablebrands.com/read/organizational-change/purpose-esg-are-not-interchangeable-you-need-both 

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