What does it mean to be a purpose-driven business?

If you could spend your days doing anything and still get paid, what would you do?

Purpose conference 2016
Purpose conference 2016

In early December, Edge attended Purpose – a conference for purpose-driven business. Purpose 2016 aimed to explore the next wave of corporate culture – one that is driven by values. The room was filled with all manner of companies, from services to products, from social enterprises to corporates, from travel to investment…. So, what makes a purpose-driven business? How are these businesses different from others? How can business be a force for positive change in the world and for ourselves?

Purpose over profit

All businesses need to make money to function. But purpose-driven businesses deliver services and products that align with their values; values that are usually linked to human or planetary betterment. The movement is powerful; especially one example produced by the Thankyou brand, which sells bottled water. 100% of the profits go towards water sanitation projects. The power of this single product line (they have many others including body care and nappies) is such that since its inception in 2008 this enterprise has impacted the lives of 444,082 people with water, sanitation and hygiene improvements.

Recruitment in line with values

Skills can be taught. But values are deeply held. Employees of value-driven businesses are selected based on alignment of their personal drivers with the business’s mission. This is why Edge Environment dedicates an entire interview within our recruitment process to values and cultural fit.

Measuring different things

The overused adage of ‘you can’t manage what you don’t measure’ might be true but sustainability professionals understand that many of the most important things aren’t the focus of measurement. For example, how do you measure employee wellbeing? And how do you focus on finding the best process instead of just the outcome? This is one of the reasons why Bellroy has a ‘Head of Flourishing’, a role that focuses on ensuring that working at Bellroy actually enriches the lives of staff, supporting them to be happy, resilient, connected, productive and to have a meaningful impact on the world.

Collaboration over competition

Collaboration was certainly a key theme of the Purpose conference – driven by the thinking of ‘combine and conquer, not divide and conquer’. The power of building on the work of others and working in partnership was highlighted by Australian Ethical, who spoke of partnering with clients to provide financial security and investment performance while having a positive impact on the planet. It’s sometimes called ‘cathedral thinking’ – taking a view of the bigger picture and aligning to a larger purpose. This long-term approach to business is gaining traction and it’s now a common thread in business strategy. For example, Bendigo Bank is partnering with credit unions to develop a shared value strategy for the community and has a 100-year view of the business, placing people at the heart of what they do.

Transformation and catalysing change

Purpose-driven businesses recognise we need to do things differently. We need to be transformative and catalyse change in otherwise stale and outdated modes of operation. Nightingale Housing is a new social enterprise developing an innovative systems-based housing model based on well-designed, sustainable and affordable multi-residential homes. The Nightingale Model repositions human needs, good design and owner agency as central to the development process, and provides networks to support triple bottom line sustainable housing outcomes for all of society.

Transforming problems into solutions is the sphere of Andrew Simpson, founder and director of Vert design house. From in-home junk mail ‘pulpers’ to new coffee capsules, Andrew aims to catalyse change with the simple act of designing, prototyping and making.

In essence, being a purpose-driven business is an ongoing journey of continual improvement and discovery. The Purpose conference showcased many people building value while delivering on their purpose. We invite you to join the journey in being purpose-driven and transforming the way we do business and build communities.

Finally, one of my favourite quotes from the day is: “Purpose is an anchor when we are getting battered in the storm”. Work out your purpose and let it anchor you when the going gets tough.

Written by Sarah Bray and Jacqui Bonnitcha.

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