The shift in the way an increasing number of businesses see their role in the world has been one of the most exciting, promising and desperately needed developments of the past few years. More and more companies are moving beyond the obsession with quarterly earnings and short-term gain toward a very different vision. As Unilever CEO Paul Polman has said, "Business must make a bigger difference to global challenges by leveraging its scale, influence, expertise and resources to drive transformational change at a systemic level." A sense of purpose has come to be seen, rightly, as a value that not only has a place in business but is essential to long-term success.
That's why today I'm delighted to announce What's Working: Purpose + Profit, a new platform, sponsored by PricewaterhouseCoopers, that's putting a spotlight on the ways businesses are working toward solutions and widening the lens of their concern in ways that benefit not only the bottom line but their employees, their communities and the world at large. Purpose + Profit will feature stories, insights and tips from leaders in the world of business and thinkers who are driving change, with an emphasis on what's working in entrepreneurship, B-corporations -- that is, benefit corporations, a class of corporations that strive to have a positive impact on society -- and impact investing.
There's no better time to put a spotlight on all that's happening in this arena. We are at the beginning of a new era for purpose-driven businesses, having come a long way even since 2011, when Michael Porter and Mark Kramer wrote in the Harvard Business Review that "most companies remain stuck in a 'social responsibility' mind-set in which societal issues are at the periphery, not the core." The solution, they continued, "lies in the principle of shared value, which involves creating economic value in a way that also creates value for society by addressing its needs and challenges."
This win-win scenario is at the heart of Purpose + Profit. For more and more companies, shared value has moved from the periphery to the core, as companies see that what's good for the bottom line can also be good for the world, and vice versa.
As this understanding gains momentum across the business world, it's hard to overstate the significance, given the long-entrenched belief that profit and purpose must, by definition, be mutually exclusive. As Jennifer Anderson, CEO of Sustrana LLC, writes:
One of the major challenges for companies with a social impact is to overcome a long-held bias in the investor community that having any sort of positive societal impact will eliminate some profit potential. This was so much the case when we started out that we had people advise us not to mention our certified B-Corp status, lest it be seen as a detractor for an investor.
As Purpose + Profit will show, that bias is fading. The rise of the idea of shared value is affecting businesses in many ways, from how leaders think to how companies set goals and try to achieve them. As Making Money Matter author G. Benjamin Bingham writes:
To lead an organization takes inner fire. If inspired by greed, the fire will burn out quickly. If inspired by a desire to do good, the fire will last because it will spread to other employees, investors and community stakeholders. Greed isolates and creates a chilly work environment, while altruism leads to collaborative, lasting relationships.
Perhaps most importantly, stories of what's working in the business world can inspire copycat solutions. As PwC's Shannon Schuyler writes in a post laying out Purpose + Profit's mission:
Our vision is to inspire a community of change-makers and provide a consistent way to highlight the stories of the people and trends positively disrupting the market, serving as catalysts for change and developing solutions that are working to solve some of society's biggest problems. By focusing on the positive and on the solutions that are working, we can start to change the dialogue and tone of media and constructively shape conversations with our friends, colleagues and networks. We can help celebrate those who are redefining how we scale and replicate seismic positive change. We can give them a voice and a platform to share their ideas and news.
We kick off today with contributions from a range of CEOs, authors and other business leaders with perspectives on some of the ways businesses are making a difference and how they can continue to do so. There's G. Benjamin Bingham on how B-corps have set a new standard for all businesses, SoapBox CEO David Simnick on how businesses can give back while strengthening the bottom line, RSF Social Finance President and CEO Don Shaffer on how to become an impact investor, The B Corp Handbook author Ryan Honeyman on how B-corps are engaging employees and transforming business at the same time, and Jennifer Anderson on the benefits and challenges of social entrepreneurship.
So please welcome What's Working: Purpose + Profit, where we'll be featuring many more voices as the week goes on and expanding the conversation as more and more companies and business leaders join this movement. As always, please use the comments section to let us know what you think.
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