What’s the purpose of your business? Making money for shareholders…creating jobs…generating profits & paying taxes? According to a new Institute of Directors report more than 60% of bosses believe “businesses should not exist solely to make money and generate shareholder profits” and 48% said “companies should have a stated social purpose to help solve problems in society”. Wow – that’s a huge (and very welcome) change in attitudes.

But the problem is most businesses have no idea how to make real change in society. Getting the boss to take part in the ice bucket challenge and lobbing a few quid to a big brand charity once a year may salve the Board’s conscience, but if companies are serious about affecting societal change they need to think deeply about the positive and negative impacts they have (and could have in the future) on society. What are the social problems in communities the business has links to? Are all kids equally able to get a good education? How well do areas score on social mobility? What inequalities are there and how could the business leverage it’s time, talent and treasure to change things for the better?

I spoke at an Association of Financial Mutuals event recently exploring ways to make the “S” in ESG meaningful. There’s so much businesses can do – from influencing your supply chain to have better practices to paying attention to how your capital is invested. Maybe you say you’re willing to employ a diverse workforce but it’s not your fault that people from all backgrounds don’t apply to work for you; well there could be societal factors that mean they can’t. If childcare facilities are poor in an area, for example, you could collaborate with other businesses and the community to improve childcare and after-school places so more people in a disadvantaged area are able to apply for jobs with your business. Then there’s the emerging field of how your use of technology – particularly Artificial Intelligence – can help or harm sections of society.

Call it enlightened self-interest if you want; I call it using your power wisely. If you want to turn your good intentions into impactful action, I can help you get started – just get in touch.

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