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Has 2020 and all of its disasters killed purpose?

10 June 2020 at 5:58 pm
Maggie Coggan
According to experts in shared value, maybe not

Maggie Coggan | 10 June 2020 at 5:58 pm


Has 2020 and all of its disasters killed purpose?
10 June 2020 at 5:58 pm

According to experts in shared value, maybe not

In 2019, “purpose” was the buzzword of the business world and global influencers, such as the US Business Roundtable and the World Economic Forum, had begun to recognise and embrace the link between social and economic success. 

But the back-to-back summer bushfire and coronavirus crises have put corporate purpose to the test, with businesses going into short-term survival mode in order to stay afloat.     

Experts from a cross-sector of society have talked in recent months about the importance of Australia building back in a different and more sustainable way. But is that something the business community is actually on-board with? 

It’s a question that this year’s 2020 Shared Value Summit panelists attempted to answer. 

This year’s virtual summit hosted global and regional guests including Harvard Business School professor Rebecca Henderson; the CEO and president of Fortune, Alan Murray; and Shared Value Project members such as insurance company IAG, to discuss the solutions and challenges of a post-pandemic world.  

Purpose not out of the picture

Henderson said the current crisis was an opportunity for businesses and the whole of society to shift their thinking and demonstrate what change was possible. 

“The pandemic will leave us poorer and more afraid, but it will leave us with a more just sense of capitalism,” Henderson said. 

“The pandemic has shown us that we can change.” 

Shared Value Project CEO Helen Steel told Pro Bono News that while there had been a lot of short-term emergency thinking from businesses trying to survive, focusing on purpose and building resilience would become incredibly important.       

“That long-term thinking is actually going to be more paramount than it was before,” Steel said. 

Ramana James, the executive general manager of IAG’s Safer Communities program, told Pro Bono News that if anything, purpose had become even more important in these times of crisis. 

“Having clarity on the purpose companies play within society and how that brings value to society… is incredibly important,” James said. 

He said that slashing CSR budgets or trimming community programs didn’t make any sense from a business perspective. 

“When a crisis happens, a company sits down to look at what they are going to do to get through this, and take a look at the most important things to invest in, and often that is actually people and humans,” he said.  

“Organisations that do that well, I think would actually be more successful coming out of any economic downturn.” 

Steel said she believed shared value would be a key tool to help the corporate world achieve that in a meaningful and sustainable way. 

“The difference between corporate social responsibility and shared value is that shared value is actually how business operates,” she said.  

“It’s about putting those social elements across all of [a business’] operations, from research and development, to procurement and human resources.”  

Shared value community leads by example 

James said that it was important for companies such as IAG, who have adopted shared value principles across their business, to set an example of how business and purpose could still run side by side, even during a crisis. 

“I do think that organisations now just need to understand the social expectation around the fact that running a business is about more than just running a revenue cost,” he said.  

Steel also said that hosting events such as the summit was an important piece of building and spreading knowledge to the entire business community. 

“Lots of companies that haven’t necessarily been involved in our conversation before are now joining in,” she said.

“Our registrations are over 500, and to me, that’s an indication that there is a huge amount of interest in shared value and the ideas that will come out of this summit.”

Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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