Focussing on purpose over profit

Business Impact: Focussing on purpose over profit
Business Impact: Focussing on purpose over profit

“There are so many graduates that want to work for the good of the planet, but what if we could turn around the huge organisations that virtually run our world.” Entrepreneur and designer Lora Starling makes an impassioned case for cultivating a better way of doing business and creating a brighter future 

There is a school in Bali that has to ‘thrive with purpose’ as its statement and to ‘create a global community of learners to make our world more sustainable’ as its mission.

What is the purpose and what is the sense of sustainability that is championed by its business students? And is it working? I believe there is an awareness that the traditional way of building business, with a few at the top earning most of the money and often with little regard for the long-term impact, is losing its glow.

Yet the bankers, energy companies, pharmaceutical businesses and car manufacturers, to mention just a few, continue to create wealth for shareholders as a priority. The evidence of the suffering of the majority of the population, heightened by climate change, becomes more apparent and yet we seem to cling to the safety of the economy. John Perkins, author of Confessions of an Economic Hitman, continues to expose how governments have ravaged, and continue to ravage, the natural world in less developed countries at the expense of the health of the societies that live there.

Can we still, then, knowing all this, satisfy the purpose, above all else, to make money? And for how long and for whom? Can we continue to champion the economic world’s sustainability at the natural world’s expense? How much room, after all, is there on Mars?

Polarisation and philanthropy

A new thinking is emerging but is it developing fast enough? When Covid-19 hit, our complacency of a predictable future was shattered. We feared that our death could be more imminent than we hoped and our life plans for the immediate future were dashed. It feels to me as if the result of the pandemic has polarised the world. Many of us have reviewed our life purpose and many are not returning to unsatisfying jobs, while others joyfully herald the rise of ‘getting back to normal’. There is, as the Buddhists say, a middle road. Perhaps we negotiate this middle road through the creation of a new normal, a desirable route since the old version was herding us to extinction.

We had a taste of another way during Covid-19. Nurses and other health carers were elevated to superhuman levels as they appeared to risk their lives for us. Pharmaceutical companies were heralded as the new saviours until the outrageous profits made at the expense of world health were exposed. With travel at a standstill, neighbours welcomed neighbours for the warmth and company unavailable from friends and relations too far away, with the Covid restrictions, to visit.

Now, in hospitals, doctors’ surgeries and on public transport, I see signs displaying that violence will not be tolerated, weakly encouraging patients and visitors to be polite and caring. We wonder why the service industry is failing, but who would want to be a part of it when, because we are being paid to care for people, or travel on public transport, we are open to abuse? When did I last see a sign like that in a successful corporation? Never.  

But businesses know the value of being seen to care. Those with huge profits donate to charity. Financial giant Bank of America pledged a whopping $181 million to various charities in 2017, but this was only 0.6 per cent of its pre-tax profit that year, according to according to a Chronicle of Philanthropy survey. This is just one example of many, including individuals such as Bill and Melinda Gates, that donate billions, which is great, but it is just a tiny drop of their fortune. It is theirs to do as they wish but how amazing it would be if the converse was true and they retained that small percentage for themselves.

Imagining a different approach

Imagine a world where the majority of success was measured and rewarded by the amount of care and love we bestowed on others and our Earth. Where most of our investment was in promoting and benefitting from positive and sustainable values rather than falling for the shallow, short-lived promises that benefit a brand’s profit.

McDonald’s inspired the Ronald McDonald House charities with a mission to create, find and support programmes that directly improve the health and wellbeing of children. McDonald’s donates about 20% of the funds needed to run these and it does not go unnoticed by the more cynical that they are helping kids’ health on one hand and damaging it on the other with fast food. Imagine what would happen if the main focus was on improving the health and wellbeing of children.

Imagine if we saved all the money spent on weaponry and defence training – defence is a profit-hungry business – and used our armies to deal primarily, with disasters. Their current training would allow them to deal with the latter efficiently, engaging in teamwork, following orders and carrying out structured solutions. What if this was the primary objective of these forces rather than preparing for an invasion with deadly weaponry in case a potential enemy arises?

Sparking change from the ground up

What can we, as individuals, do to spark change in the world? Perhaps this change will start from the ground up. It is challenging for our big brands to make this shift. Like a supertanker trying to make an unplanned turn, it is likely to run aground or take so long that it can be impossible to avert a crash. But as individuals, it is much easier for us to turn our lives around much faster. If Covid taught us anything it is the value and finiteness of life.

I spoke recently with a very successful businessperson. We are launching a new venture together and it is one built on heartfelt success. We both realise the value of working with a heart as well as a head and with a broader, caring approach as well as the more single-minded, profit-at-all-cost business template. We need both mindsets. She shared how there are so many graduates that want to work for the good of the planet, with charities or similar. But what if we could turn around some of the huge organisations that virtually run our world?

With so much depression around, it has been found that money does not buy happiness; simple acts of gratitude and love are more effective than antidepressants and the reward is that we are happier, more creative and can make a better world. It starts with each of us.

Lora Starling is a designer with more than 30 years of experience having run her own corporate graphic design business. She now works with brands and entrepreneurs in the UK, US and Australia on delivering brand impact through visual logos. Lora is also the author of The Logo DecodedIdentify Yourself and Future You.

 Headline image credit: Kristopher Roller on Unsplash


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