Adecade ago when I graduated and was about to foray into the professional world, I was very clear on the end goal: social impact. Having grown up around the globe and been exposed to the circumstances of the developing world, I was always very aware of "the bottom billion." The one billion residents of the weakest global economies who live on $1 a day. Destiny took its course, however, and a few mentoring and networking sessions later, I was on my way to a career in consulting right out of college. Nearly a decade later, I have absolutely no regrets about stumbling into the corporate world. However, my civic consciousness and advocacy for causes dear to me has remained unwavering, and so has the perennial question I asked myself a decade ago: tying in purpose and profit –– is it possible?
The answer is yes.
However, my civic consciousness and advocacy for causes dear to me has remained unwavering, and so has the perennial question I asked myself a decade ago: tying in purpose and profit –– is it possible?
In the Fall of 2019, I had the honor of being nominated as an Ambassador for One Young World, an organization determined to connect young leaders with a mission to solve global challenges where local governments may have fallen through. With over 2,000 delegates from over 190 countries, the organization brings together young professionals across faiths, nationalities and borders, all with one motivation: to accelerate social impact. The mission of the organization convinced me of beliefs that I already knew to be true: that in today's world, a broader purpose is an unmatched strength, dialogue can overcome difference, and the heights we want to reach in social impact can be propelled by corporations. From climate change and human trafficking, to economic development and education for all — One Young World encourages the Ambassadors to speak for the voiceless, and address global issues that cannot be solved by any one country, or within the binaries of East and West. Short-term politicians can't solve long-term global problems, and many of us as professionals have the ability to influence our corporations to become true champions for social impact. Let there be no doubt, businesses are capable of influencing and positively shaping our world in every way imaginable.
As Millennials and Gen Z dominate the workforce, the demand for purpose continues to heighten. The two generations are demanding change from what professionals expect from employers, what consumers expect from products, and ultimately, how corporations impact communities. Millennials and Gen Z are the most connected and the most educated generation in human history. They expect impact-oriented leadership. They want meaning and purpose tied to a greater cause –– not just a paycheck. If an opportunity doesn't offer it, they are also swiftly willing to move on to one that does. Now is an opportune time for employers to refresh their sole pursuit of financial performance and tailor their businesses to the changing preferences of professionals and consumers. What will follow is a purpose-oriented corporate culture that will allow the workforce, and ultimately the business, to thrive.
In order to succeed, attract, and retain the best talent moving forward, companies will need to integrate social value in the core business model, so "giving back" isn't just an afterthought, but critical to the operations. Civic consciousness will need to expand and transcend beyond the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) teams that largely dominate today. While seemingly a daunting task, the design of supply chains, products, services, and jobs can be re-oriented for a bigger cause, if backed by company leadership and investors. Company leaders also need to be comfortable engaging in social, political and cultural commentary publicly. Voicing choices and exhibiting empathy on global issues is quickly becoming the benchmark of responsible leadership. Corporations today are equipped with the reach, capital, resources, and execution power to partner on practical solutions for pressing issues. Now is the time to go all in and maximize that leverage.
In order to succeed, attract, and retain the best talent moving forward, companies will need to integrate social value in the core business model, so "giving back" isn't just an afterthought, but critical to the operations.
Businesses will not evolve to offer social value overnight, but it can be done with the right level of diligence, leadership, and innovation. For starters, investors must look beyond the bottom line and seek integrated value that benefits shareholders, employees, supply chains, communities, and our planet. Corporations must consider restructuring their business models, hire leaders who embrace the challenge, train employees who strive to be a force for good, and ultimately raise the standards of responsible capitalism. What is the ultimate end otherwise of this corporate rat race? How much are we going to earn, travel, eat, own, possess… and then what?
Intertwining purpose may compromise short term profits for a long term perspective, but financial performance cannot be the sole lens. Eventually, a social mission will payback in employee morale boost, talent retention, customer loyalty, brand building, and ultimately, the bottom line. The current COVID-19 pandemic is a great example of corporations coming forward in the midst of an exceptional crisis. Relevant companies pivoted their businesses to manufacture personal protective equipment, hand sanitizers, and ventilators, to serve frontline medical workers and communities. While it was their civic duty to do so in light of a global pandemic — much of the developing world will continue to suffer from historically crippled healthcare systems, far after this pandemic subsides. Will these businesses commit to continued crisis support, to some degree? The hope is certainly there.
While we fight a global pandemic, let's use this time as an opportunity to reflect, energize our corporate environment, and advocate for causes within our companies, networks, and beyond. The quickest way to give up our power is not knowing that we have it in the first place. Albert Einstein famously said, "Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value." If this pandemic has taught us a lesson, it is that we are all connected when it comes to global issues and have a responsibility towards humanity — apathy should not be an option. It's about time responsible capitalism is embraced as the norm, not the exception.
This article was originally published May 29, 2020.
WRITTEN BYSarah Naqvi