Purpose is defined by a sense of determination and resolve to achieve a certain goal and a stratagem to fulfill an end result which will ultimately bring you closer to your objective. A company’s purpose cannot be amassed in one definition, as we are living in a world in which the differentiation between profitability and social impact can often be blurred by the common misconception that all parties aiming to positively impact the world are doing so at the expense of making money.
But what if I were to say that profitability and social purpose do not always have to be independent business strategies, but a mutually beneficial business model forming a marriage to see a company thrive in tandem with the fulfillment of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) leading to the 2030 target deadline?
As the leader of a social impact enterprise, The World We Want, which places the highest importance on doing well by doing good, I believe that there is every benefit to being commercially minded as well as having a conscious sense of purpose and sustainable impact. The main benefit links back to increased productivity on the SDGs front, as we enter the crucial ‘Decade of Delivery’ between 2020-2030. The growing importance of the SDGs within the framework of business activity, most notably in shaping CSR strategies, could be the make or break of the 17 Goals.
However, the call for more businesses to adopt a model incorporating profit and purpose is not simply a rally cry. There is evidence behind the growing trend as demonstrated by the increasing emphasis placed on the SDGs by high-profile consultancy firms. In 2017, KPMG identified the increasing role of The SDGs for corporate responsibility as a key trend in their extensive Survey of Corporate Social Responsibility covering CSR activity across 4,900 firms and 49 countries.
The importance of SDGs for CSR is further supported by a recent report by PwC which found that 71% of surveyed businesses plan on developing measures to meet the SDGs. The same report also found 78% of surveyed citizens stated that they would be more likely to purchase goods or services from firms that have formally committed to the SDGs – thus holding an organization accountable for their positive/negative social impact. It could even be said that people are willing to turn their back on a company which neglects their responsibility to take a stand for societal and environmental issues.
But the question lies as to whether this is a global effort, mirrored equally in the Global North and South. Perhaps that is where the issue lies?
India has also signed the declaration for sustainable development along with other countries, and while the government initiatives in India are linked to achieving SDGs, local implementation and data validation becomes a challenge. To add on to the slow progress, India ranks 116 of 157 on the SDG index, thus calling for immediate action through a collaboration between the corporate sector, civil society organizations and the government. Corporates are now being seen as the key drivers of SDGs as they can apply their creativity and innovation in solving the sustainable development challenges. They can play a strong role as facilitators to catalyze the implementation of the SDGs.
The playing field is changing and the goalposts are moving – business is no longer just about your shareholders. Sometimes purpose can become a buzzword, brandished at will yet baring little weight. Social impact strategies provide a concrete plan with quantifiable business outcomes and a measurable and definitive societal impact.
CEOs must outline clear objectives and purpose of the company beyond financial touchpoints, defining their values. These need to permeate every decision-making process, from environmental footprint to social impact to investment decisions.
When you can actually convert any form of awareness into a real form of action and advocacy and make a healthy profit for the company as well, that’s when you’ve achieved a balance between profitability and purpose. This might just be the key to the success of the SDGs come 2030.
About the author
Natasha Mudhar is Founder of The World We Want, which aims to gather the priorities of people from every corner of the world and help build a collective vision that will be used directly by the United Nations and World Leaders to plan a new development agenda launching in 2015, one that is based on the aspirations of all citizens.