Why Larry Fink’s Words Should Spur You to Action

When Larry Fink speaks, the business world pays attention.

It’s no wonder why. Fink, who took #28 on Forbes’ 2018 List of Powerful People, is chairman and chief executive of BlackRock. With a portfolio valuing over $6 trillion, it’s the largest investment management company in the world.

What might surprise you is what Larry Fink speaks about, more and more: social purpose.


Every year since 2012, Fink has penned a letter to CEOs – leaders of the very companies in which BlackRock invests. His 2018 letter, entitled “A Sense of Purpose”, called on executives to make integrating a corporate social purpose their top business priority.

Larry Fink Social Purpose

Larry Fink, chair and chief executive of BlackRock. Image credit: UCLA Anderson School of Management

The letter made waves, with buzz in The New York Times, Bloomberg and Business Insider. It became a cultural touchpoint for keynote speakers at business and sustainability conferences.

It also generated push-back, with critics speculating a call for social good was just the latest trend in corporate thought leadership, or worse: the kryptonite to profit.

Now, after publishing his 2019 letter entitled “Purpose & Profit”, Fink is doubling down on his call for global corporate leaders to take the social purpose movement seriously.

“Profits are in no way inconsistent with purpose – in fact, profits and purpose are inextricably linked,” it reads. “Profits are essential if a company is to effectively serve all of its stakeholders over time – not only shareholders, but also employees, customers, and communities.”

This is music to Mary Ellen Schaafsma’s ears.


Mary Ellen is the Director of Social Innovation and Research at United Way of the Lower Mainland, and part of a team that launched the Social Purpose Institute at United Way.

“I was thrilled,” says Mary Ellen, of both last year and this year’s letter. “His words validate everything we’re doing at the Social Purpose Institute.”

Larry Fink Social Purpose

Mary Ellen Schaafsma, left, with local business leaders at a 2017 Social Purpose event hosted by United Way of the Lower Mainland

Launched in 2018, the Social Purpose Institute at United Way helps companies identify and develop their own social purpose. The institute’s experts work with business leaders to unleash their company’s potential, creating positive social change in local communities.

Mary Ellen was happy to see Fink address a common misconception in this year’s message.

“This year he’s linking purpose and profit. He’s echoing our message, that having a social purpose is the root to profitability.”

Leaders at the Social Purpose Institute say this approach is in line with overcoming short-term behaviour in favour of long-term value creation, an essential step in a purpose-driven approach.


Mary Ellen also points out this year’s letter has a stronger sense of urgency – a compelling nudge for leaders sitting on the sidelines. It is a Larry Fink Social Purpose call to action.

“What stood out for me was his call to CEOs to show leadership in this area,” says Mary Ellen. “It’s not just a business case for finding a social purpose; it’s a call to action.”

“If you don’t start now, you’ll fall behind,” added Mary Ellen, especially now that Fink continues to raise awareness and interest about social purpose, around the globe.

Larry Fink Social Purpose

The Social Purpose Institute at United Way can coach business leaders on the 4 stages of true community impact: Philanthropic, Strategic, Integrated and Social Purpose.