In the Fall of 2008 we started PUBLIC. It was the height of the financial meltdown. Lehman Brothers collapsed a month before we launched and the world was in freefall. And despite having terrible timing we felt we were on to something, namely, that business must be and can be a major catalyst for social impact for one simple reason – their reach and scale to affect change is so much greater than both government and non-profit sectors.
We were inspired by the early adopters – Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia, The Body Shop and Unilever – wanting to bring it to the mainstream. But we recognized that the market wasn’t ready because companies and charities still believed that the motivation to “do good” should be charitable and untainted from generating business benefit.
This is the essence of corporate social responsibility (CSR), a model and mindset based on the notion of reducing harm. Its posture is primarily a defensive one and is seen as an add on to what companies do. Social value is not the explicit goal of the enterprise and as a result, community impact sits outside of the revenue generating side of the business and is by necessity capped in terms of what it can contribute.
Our belief is that companies can be major creators of social impact. And to do so is not incompatible with making money. Quite the contrary. Integrating business benefit and community benefit is a mutually reinforcing and scalable proposition. But to do so effectively, community benefit becomes an explicit goal of the enterprise and society needs and challenges are factored into mainstream business decisions. We call this “profit with purpose” and believe it is the future of business.
Convincing companies they can achieve profit with purpose has not been easy. When we first starting selling this idea in 2008 and 2009 no one was buying. Things did not get much easier in 2010 through 2013. But in the past few years the market has started to respond to this idea and the last twelve months the shift has been palpable. Our growth has accelerated as a result.
The reason for the shift from CSR to Profit with Purpose are as follows:
We are excited by what’s to come. And honoured that we are contributing to the shift that is taking place in the market. We believe today, as we did in 2008, that the future of social impact will be led by companies and brands that understand profit and purpose go hand in hand. But key to this positive rapid growth and change is the commitment to authenticity, transparency, equity and reciprocity. We hope you will join us in making this vision a reality.