Purposeful Government: A Purpose Policy Playbook

By Coro Strandberg, Advisor, United Way Social Purpose Institute

Mar 16, 2022

With the intersecting crises of a global pandemic, the climate emergency and rising inequality, the public is looking to business and government as never before to put society on a sustainable footing. Fortunately, social purpose businesses, whose core reason for being is to create a better world, are rolling up their sleeves to help society address the social and environmental challenges faced by humanity. However, to move the needle on these challenges, these businesses need purposeful government partners.

As we are in the early innings of purpose, governments have yet to leverage the potential of for-purpose businesses as a force for good. To unlock the potential of businesses to mobilize and rally all their assets, resources, relationships, influence, reach and scale to address society’s problems, governments need a purpose policy playbook. With funding from Employment and Social Development Canada, the United Way Social Purpose Institute commissioned me to write a paper on policy options for governments to accelerate social purpose in business: Promoting Purpose in Canadian Public Policy.

This playbook, in the form of a policy options brief, explores government reforms and policy measures to help support and incentivize businesses and entrepreneurs to adopt and implement a social purpose as the reason they exist. These reforms will help social purpose businesses thrive, flourish, and grow—and make Canada a great place to operate.

The reforms are designed to put social purpose in the mainstream: social purpose would become the standard and expected approach to business in Canada. The playbook is a package of reforms governments can use to create an enabling operating context to make social purpose that default approach.  Policymakers can better align corporate behaviour with public interest and create allies for the work that lies ahead in building a sustainable future for Canadian communities and businesses.

The paper sets out all the options—nearly 250 of them—that governments across Canada can consider to engage businesses in unleashing all their assets and resources for societal good.

Fortunately, it is not a one-way street.  Not only do social purpose businesses gain by growing but governments that embrace and encourage social purpose in business can realize many benefits for themselves and their constituents. 

Government benefits from supporting social purpose businesses to start, transition and grow

  • Achieve government social and environmental objectives
  • Unlock company resources and assets for public good
  • Build a stronger and more resilient economy
  • Attract and retain talent and capital
  • Drive innovation and economic diversification
  • Accelerate the transition to a low-carbon, circular, and equitable economy

Some governments are already stepping up.

As seen below, the Mayors of Vancouver and Burnaby declared their support for social purpose business by proclaiming the world’s first Purpose in Business Week, November 15 – 19, 2021.

These cities have partnerships with the United Way Social Purpose Institute to accelerate the growth of social purpose business in their jurisdictions. Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley shared his belief in social purpose business at the inaugural Propelling Purpose Summit 2021:

“Burnaby council was pleased to be one of the first cities in Canada to proclaim November 15th to 19th #Purposeinbusinessweek and throw our support behind the growing social purpose business movement.

The research is clear, social purpose benefits the business, it benefits their workers, it benefits the community, and it benefits our residents. […] We believe that cities that are home to social purpose businesses are more likely to thrive given the contributions these businesses make to their local communities.

We also believe that social purpose businesses are more likely to thrive in the future, so the more social purpose businesses we have in our community, the stronger and more resilient our local economy will be.

Burnaby wants to attract, retain and help grow social purpose businesses because we believe this will position us for a stronger, brighter and more secure future.”

In addition to funding research into the purpose economy, the federal government’s Minister of Families, Children and Social Development, The Honourable Karina Gould, told the Summit audience:

“Businesses with a social purpose have demonstrated great potential to overcome societal challenges.”

The B.C. Minister of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation, Ravi Kahlon, published a blog on the purpose economy. In it he states:

“The Province recognizes that social purpose businesses:

• Build a stronger and more resilient economy.

• Stimulate innovation and growth.

• Generate meaningful work.

• Attract and retain talent and capital.

Social purpose businesses also help governments achieve their objectives, such as advancing equity, reconciliation, and sustainability in business, and unlocking company resources and assets for the public good.

B.C. is a hotbed of social purpose innovation. And it will take all of us to bring the purpose economy to life. We hope to help start and grow many more social purpose companies in the coming years to create the economy we want for ourselves and our children.

The Province of British Columbia wants to join with all of you on this grand pivot to purpose-first business.

Not only do we want an economy that is sustainable, inclusive, and innovative, we believe that an economy where large and small social purpose businesses thrive is the route to achieving these goals.”

What you can do

Here are a few actions you or your organization can take to advance purpose policy in Canada:

  1. Share the municipal policy strategies in the report with your local government representatives
  2. Share the provincial policy strategies in the report with your provincial representative, premier or economic development minister
  3. Share the report’s federal policy strategies with your federal representative or federal ministers
  4. Find political champions of social purpose business and encourage them to raise these ideas with their political colleagues
  5. Start a letter-writing or lobbying campaign to advocate that governments build on these ideas as part of their economic recovery efforts—and to accelerate the transition to the purpose economy.

Given that social and environmental indicators are spiralling out of control, we need businesses more than ever to mobilize their assets, know-how and reach to help create an equitable, flourishing world on a thriving planet. And we need government more than ever to create the conditions for this to happen quickly at scale. Purposeful business and purposeful governments together can pave the way.

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