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A process for purpose

6 January, 2023

What’s the point of purpose? And how does an organisation put its purpose into practice?

Big questions, but if you’re looking for a way to understand purpose, you could do a lot worse than read a recent blog from our good friend Polly Mackenzie, Chief Social Purpose Officer at the University of the Arts London.

Polly’s approach is creative and pragmatic, and her observations on what purpose means for a university apply outside the further education sector. She defines the purpose movement – broadly – as “insourcing externalities and building capital in the systems that surround [organisations] rather than depleting it”. And that holds true for any organisation, whether it is profit making or not. In the end, capital in all its forms is finite, and long-term success (truly sustainable success) is predicated on ensuring that organisations maintain and enhance the social, natural and human capital that allows them to generate financial returns.

For those who think this sounds like a big task, she points out that being purpose-driven doesn’t mean you are on the hook for delivering all possible positive outcomes for all people and for the planet. But rather that you need to think about what your role – your specific and unique role given who your organisation is and what it does – in doing that, and how you optimise it.

And for those who worry about the impact on financial returns she has further words of reassurance: “You don’t need to bankrupt yourself to save the world. In fact, if your contribution is net positive, then you have an obligation to maintain your financial sustainability so that you can continue to make that contribution”.

It’s a motivating and inspiring read, and sheds a lot of light on some of the really thoughtful and detailed work that is going on in organisations around the world to figure out how to put purpose into practice. If your New Year’s resolution is to make the most of your organisation’s purpose in 2023, start the year right and take a look at what Polly has to say.

By Marie Guérinet

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