Unlocking business value through social purpose

Oct 20, 2021

Companies today face unprecedented scrutiny from consumers, employees, communities, investors and governments, as expectations rise and information spreads faster and wider than ever. Rising debt levels, climate change, systemic racism, COVID-19 are just some of the pressures being felt across the globe and certainly here in Canada, that are causing companies to look at new ways of doing business to create value beyond their immediate shareholders.

We had a chat with one of our Propelling Purpose moderators Maureen Young, Director of the Social Purpose Office at Coast Capital, on the value of the social purpose movement in business, and how they’ve injected it into their corporate strategy.

What exactly is a social purpose company?

Social purpose companies are profit-driven businesses whose core purpose is to contribute positively to society. They use their products, supply chains, people, capital, influence, relationships, real estate, and scale to accelerate positive impacts. Social purpose companies do well by doing good, and conversely do good by doing well – it’s a positive spiral, as you can see in this diagram below, creating value at each step of the cycle. 

How is social purpose different from corporate social responsibility (CSR)?

CSR has been around for a long time. At its most basic level, many CSR initiatives are driven by regulation and the duty to be responsible and minimize the harm we do in the world. Over time, CSR has become bigger and more robust but still remained largely separate from the corporate strategy, with its own unique set of goals and tactics. 

Being a social purpose company goes beyond good deeds and hits the core of our operations and brand. It’s about integrating purpose into our day-to-day operations, infusing every experience the member (and employee) has with us. A fully embedded purpose shows up in every dimension of our business.

Are social purpose companies successful?

Research from the Social Purpose Institute and others confirm that social purpose companies are:

· Outperforming their peers in the stock market
· Experiencing higher rates of growth
· Driving innovation and collaboration
· Seeing higher employee engagement and more success in attracting and retaining talent
· And meeting the demand of consumers who are looking for companies to show how their offerings are tackling the critical issues we face as a society.

Companies like Best Buy, Unilever and Maple Leaf Foods have all embraced social purpose and are seeing strong returns. At Unilever, for example, the company’s 28 Sustainable Living Brands (including Dove, Knorr, and Hellmann’s) grew 69%faster than the rest of the business in 2018, compared to 47% in 2017.

By building purpose-driven practices into the core of your strategy, culture and day-to-day operations, you will make a difference in the lives of your employees, customers, and broader ecosystem, which in turn, will help you position your business as a force for good–both naturally and nationally.

How has Coast Capital evolved their focus on social purpose so far?

As a financial cooperative that has been in business for over 80 years, we were founded to meet unmet needs in our communities. From the beginning, we’ve pioneered innovative new products and have been a committed partner to our local communities – with our commitment of investing 10% of our budgeted bottom line back into the communities we serve. As we contemplated how our approach should evolve to position Coast Capital for today’s challenges, we felt that embracing a social purpose model made a lot of sense and would be a natural evolution, true to our roots.

So, in 2020 we embarked on a journey to become a social purpose business, defining our purpose and vision to provide a clear North Star vision for the organization to be embedded throughout our work in support of our members, communities, and employees.

What is Coast Capital’s social purpose?

We’re proud to say that our purpose is “Building Better Futures, Together” and through our purpose we aim to unlock financial opportunities that positively impact people and communities. Each word of our purpose has been carefully selected to define our intent:

· Building: the active role we will take as catalysts to drive positive change
· Better: the measurable outcome we want to achieve towards a more equitable, inclusive and sustainable economy
· Futures: the impact we wish to have now and in the future, for current and future generations
· Together: speaks to our approach, which will be in collaboration with our stakeholders: members, employees, partners, suppliers and our broader ecosystem – truly putting our co-operative values into action.

For us, purpose really is the next iteration of corporate social responsibility, moving it from a function on the side of the business to something that is embedded throughout the organization. A north star that guides our decisions day to day.

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