How Can We Save Purpose from Purpose-Wash?

Agreed and there are often defining moments of leadership when big strategic decisions demonstrate if leaders are living the purpose, especially for incumbent businesses that have spent decades maximising profits

Agree the investor community is a big point of leverage, but look out for employees as they start to find their voice. Article in the FT on this just went live and will be in Monday’s paper. “Corporate Activists: The professionals swapping banners for briefcases”

Ok you all sound smart :-). Last question now. I have been asked this question in Oxford this morning again and I wonder what is your answer. A4: should every business has a purpose? (Y/N)

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Absolutely ! How can we do that so that we can compare apples with apples - real time

The world benchmarking alliance are seeking to aggregate indices around the SDGs, providing ratings on listed companies contribution to SDGs, this could help converge and navigate the proliferation of indices

A4. Ultimately, yes! -
all businesses should be consciously aligned to the long term wellbeing of everyone, and as such they should have a purpose. However the articulation of a purpose should only be the result of a board-level decision to make this their PRIMARY GOAL, with profit being a necessary input and a natural outcome.

There should be some criteria that businesses need to meet before calling themselves purposeful. B Corp certification is an example. And the public setting of science-based targets for CO2 emissions.


I hope that corporation leaders and shareholders are waking up and questioning themselves of the role they and their companies are going to play in the world… At the end of the day, it’s each and everyone’s choice. Its about laying your head in the pillow at night and being able to sleep knowing that you are doing what you can to make this world a better place. It sounds a bit naive, but that’s how I feel… so I always hold this question within me: how can we change people’s perspective and make them realize that their decisions today when it comes to business, have a massive impact in the environment and people!


Employees are the next front line, action from employees from Google is just one good example of how businesses are being held to account by the people who work for them

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I think so, even if we get legislation, businesses still need to decide how they’ll navigate their role and viability in a rapidly changing future. The benefits are so great, why wouldn’t you?..

We need to start thinking about the Management of the corporates. Or fixed it, or replace it.
The communication over “what’s changing?” can’t be solve with an act as “now we are working for a better future”.

A3: I’m inclined to say YES. However, I’m more interested in the corporate “super-states” we have created in the past three decades than the SMEs that reside in their broader ecosystem or corner shops on the high street. Every business should be “sustainable” and seek to adhere to an acceptable level of ethical, environmental and labour standards, even if they’re making widgets or baking the bread we eat each day.
Purpose is more than that. If we’re going to have trillion dollar plus market cap businesses that have more clout than a G20 member, then I believe they have to be held to far higher standards on what they do, why they do it and for whom.

Millennial answer here: i think they won’t survive if they don’t. We are buying more and more consciously - products and services alike. And very much like @costa was saying before, I would really struggle to engage with any business that goes blind in the world.

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This idea is very poor as SDGs are not measures that can be used. It will create more confusion since it is impossible to create comparable SDG measures The creators of SDGs have said it themselves and a growing wave of experts in measurements sciences (not the bean counters) are are totally stumped of the drive towards actually using the SDGs in its current form

final q…
Yes, every business should have a purpose.

I believe they can and many do inherently, particularly those that are set up from the outset to make a difference to society, from charities and not for profit organisations, to social enterprises.

It is increasingly accepted that businesses have to play a role in society beyond making profit, paying its taxes and employing people, and that role, or purpose, should be embedded into the organisation’s DNA.

That is so true and more members of the investor community are beginning to really put pressure on the companies they invests in to improve their Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) standards. Many of the Swedish pension funds for example. Let’s not forget the important impact Millennials are having on how businesses behave. As they grow as an investor class, we will see a lot more positive change. This leads me to think that it is important to involve the investor community in the conversation - by trying to map purpose to what the financial community knows best as a conscious metric (ESG) - so that they know what to look for and what questions to ask during the investment selection process.

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Great answers and a lot of content for us to reflect on! Thanks a lot to @pilarp @JHH @Tasneem @gibbulloch @afelin @Benkellard @WillG @valentinomagliaro
For people still online please keep replying and discussing. We are going to read all the replies and distill the key learnings from the online conversation.

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Thank you Vitto and everyone else! Pleasure to participate, such a rich discussion! :heart_eyes:

Was so lovely to be part of this panel!! Thank you so much for such a nice conversation everyone!

Thanks for moderating @Vitto… and to fellow panelists for a lively debate. To be continued…

Indeed, I think mental models are made explicit using system dynamics and new concepts. A new theory of value should be sandboxed->prototyped to show how it captures in the value equation the negative externatilities that our current system produces.

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