"Purpose” is a major buzz word for businesses these days. Every strategist and social impact leader is talking about it. A google search alone for “purpose” yields articles about writing for purpose, defining purpose, strategies for purpose, how purpose will save the world, and even eating with purpose. Eating with purpose? Is that the same thing as mindful eating? Yikes… it’s a lot to follow.
When I wrote Purposeful Profits: Inside Successful Businesses Making a Positive Global Impact last year, I wanted to shine a light on the purpose story that isn’t behind the headlines, though. I wanted to showcase why purpose is so critical for businesses wanting to make an impact, and why the most critical elements of purpose are imbedded deep within, behind the labels, behind the CEOs and behind the social impact reports. While some businesses may see finding purpose as a box to check off to stay relevant, others recognize that purpose equates to existence. Businesses that have purpose are businesses that have dedicated leaders sacrificing, innovating, taking risks, serving others and solving very challenging problems for the planet. Real purpose means real people. Real people doing really important work.
Take for example Shannon Keith, Founder of Sudara, an ethical clothing company that helps support women in India recently freed from the sex trade. Shannon started the company after feeling nearly powerless while visiting a red light district in India. She knew she had to do something. Shannon found her purpose in Sudara. Now she spends her days building a solid financial footing for women who were previously undermined and delegitimized. Shannon has brought identity back to so many who would have otherwise been forgotten. Sudara's purpose is Shannon's purpose. Behind her are the hundreds of women who now feel their own sense of purpose, as well.
The story of Pierrette Djemain, an entrepreneur who was born in Benin, was raised with eleven brothers and sisters, lost nearly everyone and everything, and found success growing moringa, is also what defines purpose. Starting a business with only 1,000 francs (about $2.00), Pierrette literally started from nothing but an idea. Now, her company Plantes Aromatiques des Collines (PAC) sells moringa to 25 different retail locations around Central Benin and employs women who face financial and personal challenges. Pierrette believes that she was put on this Earth to help those who have been disadvantaged by life. She sees opportunities to create sustainable and thriving futures for the vulnerable, (widows, orphans, forgotten women) by planting moringa trees, revitalizing the environment, and developing a value chain that provides entire families with a resilient source of income. These families have purpose. Pierrette found her purpose. The moringa tree has its purpose, too.
You can read more of these definitions of purpose in Purposeful Profits. Within the book are tales of individuals like Shannon and Pierrette, but there are also stories of individuals working for large companies, working to correct misgivings, to amplify positive solutions, and to try new things that can benefit all of humanity. Each of these individuals, and their companies, are what defines purpose. Behind each of us, no matter where we work, what we do or who we are, lies purpose.
As purpose takes on its own evolution, and as companies amplify their purpose, market their purpose, brand their purpose or indeed sell “purpose,” let’s not forget that it is the human effort, heart, brain and dedication that defines purpose in the end.
Mission, brand awareness, and staying innovative are critical for companies' abilities to thrive. Finding purpose, highlighting the triumphs from within and leading by inspiration are just as important.
Joanne Sonenshine is author of Purposeful Profits: Inside Successful Businesses Making a Positive Global Impact and Founder of Connective Impact, a partnership advisory firm helping mission-driven companies scale their impact through collaboration.