The purpose of change

Traditionally, a business’s success has been defined by money: how much it’s making; how much it’s investing; how much is being used to expand operations and roles. But as we move into an age focused less on the bottom line, and more on social responsibility and sustainability, our definition of success is shifting.

Increasingly, we are looking at the ways in which companies are positively impacting their communities, and less on maximizing corporate profitability as the sole measure of success.

You may have heard of CSR – corporate social responsibility. CSR sees companies and their employees taking part in volunteerism, or donating money as part of their larger business mandate.

But what about social purpose? What exactly is social purpose business? And why is it transforming the way we do business?

More than a CSR strategy, social purpose means doing business where the focus on social good is built straight into a company’s foundational core. It’s an innovative approach that both strengthens the context in which a company does business and positively impacts our community – a good for everyone.

“Customers today increasingly want more value for their hard-earned dollars,” says Mary Ellen Schaafsma, United Way’s Director of Social Innovation and Research. “They are looking at how businesses show up socially, and what impact they have environmentally. More and more organizations are being assessed holistically, rather than simply a transaction around products and services.”

Because of this, Mary Ellen and her team at United Way are committed to getting businesses the tools, resources and mentorship they need to build social purpose into their strategic plans.

“We are excited to help companies adopt a social purpose mandate. It’s why we’ve created a Social Purpose Business Case, a working document that shows how companies focused on solving societal problems are performing well in terms of market growth, meeting changing customer needs, and inspiring their employees.”

Mary Ellen knows that it can be a significant shift away from a historical focus on profits and shareholder returns.

“The first step is simple: identifying and articulating your social purpose. What is it that you want to achieve in terms of bettering your community, city, or organization? From there, you build in the processes that will get you to your goal, retains your customers, and support your success.”

Mary Ellen encourages any business interested in exploring social purpose to get in touch with her at MaryEllenS@uwlm.ca. United Way also regularly puts on workshops for businesses interested in establishing their social purpose.

“I’m really excited to be working with business leaders on how their organizations can be social purpose leaders and create a better social environment for all.”

Read more about United Way’s commitment to social purpose in the latest issues of BCBusiness here.