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What is this thing called Purpose?

What is this thing called Purpose?

Thoughts on Purpose 2015 and why you can’t unlearn the wisdoms you now hold.

My friend Jackson Nash, who can be found at his permaculture haven in Kauai, once wrote:

“Our gift and curse as humans is our incredible consciousness. We are aware, and that is the greatest and worst thing we’ve got going for us. Because we can clearly see how well we could be living, how politely we could be treating one another, how incredible life could be.”

This came to mind as I sat in the back row of Purpose’s opening plenary, furiously scribbling the smarts of each speaker to grace the stage.

I am a freelance writer. I am my own business. I work with other businesses to craft sentences that convey a feeling, a certain idea, in order to sell a product or event. At the beginning of Purpose, I fancied myself a bit of an outsider – I have no NFP start-up to my name, nor am I presently cooking up an idea to curtail deforestation or shelter the poor. But it quickly became clear that I was a part of this community.

The ideas brewing at Purpose were human ones; they pertained to business, yes, but also to not being a jerk. This is important to note because our manners dictate the way we treat the external world, but they begin with how we treat the person beside us.

This is the magic Purpose spun into the current conversation around purpose-driven business models. It served as a reminder of a common cause, allowed for funny and candid insights; it introduced us to people who can help us get there.

The question at the forefront was rightly this one: “How do we actually do this?” Thanks to two days at the inaugural Purpose gathering, here’s what I’ve come away with…

1. We need a new, conscious breed of corporation

Jane Gleeson-White, author of Six Capitals: The Revolution Capitalism Has to Have, opened Purpose with an accountant’s view on the changing attitudes to business and the need for a new breed of corporation, i.e. the B Corp.

“Through our accounting systems, we have inadvertently programmed our economies to destroy the earth,” she explained.

A change in this accounting, or what’s called ‘integrated reporting’, has allowed for a shift in business and somewhat a groundswell.

“For the first time, businesses are attempting to consider how their pursuit of profit impacts on the world around them and how that world affects their ability to make profits,” said Jane.

Yep, natural capital is now a thing, and it’s bringing to light information that’s never been considered in financial reports before. This is what has allowed for a growing number of entrepreneurs (and Purpose attendees) to begin to address the enormous social and environmental problems of the world. The old paradigm has been smashed and businesses can no longer ignore the negative consequences of their daily operations. Enter a new league of corporations with conscience.

“For the first time, businesses are attempting to consider how their pursuit of profit impacts on the world around them.”
— Jane Gleeson-White

2. Purpose will redefine hiring

At the breakout session How to Community, Helen Souness of Etsy Australia, an online marketplace where consumers buy directly from the maker, shared her advice for businesses that place values above all else. In her mind, it’s all about the people you bring on board.

“Recruit to values. It’s been said before, but it is fundamental if you want to sustain and grow a community around your business. Hire people who get it and who connect with your purpose,” said Helen. “Attitude first, experience second.”

At the other end of this is prospective employees who want to work for an organisation whose values align with their own. Alicia Darvall in Becoming a B Corp echoed this sentiment that having purpose makes it easier to find your tribe.

“There’s a new generation who don’t want to check their values at the door. If you’re a B Corp, people want to work with you,” she explained.

In fact, purpose-driven workers, those motivated by the work itself rather than a payslip, perform significantly better than other workers, according to a recent study. In short, have purpose. Be about something bigger than what you do day-to-day. Doing so will ensure the right employees seek you out.

“Having purpose makes it easier to find your tribe”
— Alicia Darvall, B Lab

3. Big businesses can help in big ways

In Purpose-led Disruption, Mark Daniels of Social Traders, reckoned that in the next decade, one thing that will change disadvantage is social procurement. This term was new to me, so I’ll simplify in case you’re in the same boat. Businesses need goods and services. Social procurement is the deliberate purchase of goods and services from a social enterprise.

“What we are now seeing is business and government beginning to explore doing good through their supply chain,” he said.

“For example, buying management of a transfer station from a social enterprise means you get a great waste service – the same, and in some case a better, service than you would from the private sector – but you could also get the additional social benefit of 50% of the labour force coming from a disadvantaged cohort, which could include Indigenous peoples, those with disabilities or the long-term unemployed.”

4. Seek out the stories of those who’ve been there

Listening to Abigail Forsyth recount her journey from mother-with-idea to CEO and founder of KeepCup was truly a delight. It all began with her daughter’s reusable sippy cup and the thought that throwing it out after each drink would be nutso – and yet that’s what today’s convenience culture is wont to do.

“It’s been an amazing journey. I thought I was going to run it from my lounge room … and I thought: I’ve got a pretty big shed, I’ll put the boxes in there. But it’s taken me all over the world. It’s been the journey of a lifetime.”

She now boasts 40 staff, three offices and 35 distribution partners. In case you missed it, here’s the podcast thanks to Make Do Co.

Malcolm Rands is another example of a man whose purpose was found in his desire to protect the environment, not from single-use coffee cups, but petrochemical cleaning agents. As he writes in his book, “…the other vital thing about ecostore was that it was never just a business that was going to make a lot of money for its owners. It is a vehicle: it is the fundraising arm of my not-for-profit organisation, Fairground Foundation, so it has to generate enough profit to seed projects that will help make a better future for us all.”

5. We are it. Let’s keep the juice alive.

Purpose 2015, among a squillion other things, revealed there are others like you. People with the same drive to shake things up – those who’ve failed, succeeded, are in the thick of it, and those just starting out.

On your journey, remember Kyra Maya Phillips’ beloved passage from The Art of Stillness: Adventure in Going Nowhere:

“To me, the point of sitting still is that it helps you to see through the very idea of pushing forward; indeed, it strips you of yourself, as of a coat of armour, by leading you into a place where you’re defined by something larger. If it does have benefits, they lie within some invisible account with a high interest rate, but very long-term yields, to be drawn upon at that moment, surely inevitable, when a doctor walks into your room, shaking his head, or another car veers in front of yours, and all you have to draw upon is what you’ve collected in your deeper moments.”

From the laser-cut name tags and coffee cart working double time, to the water refilling stations and Who Gives A Crap TP in the stalls, Purpose walked the talk. Beyond that, there were moments which gave us pause and asked that we inhale, exhale. Together, we fashioned a rain storm using hands and legs. We were serenaded by our MC. Suffice it to say, we’ll be back next year for more. And for anyone with Matt Wicking withdrawals, here’s the balm.


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