By Jocelyne Daw
This year when Canada’s honours were being announced, one new member of the Order of Canada stood out – Bell Canada’s CEO, George Cope. It was no surprise that Mr. Cope was being acknowledged for his contribution to advancing Canadian business, although this was a secondary call out. What was noteworthy was that he was being hailed for his leadership in Bell Canada’s social commitment to address the pervasive issue of mental health in Canada. It’s a remarkable story but one that we guarantee we’ll see more and more. These are dynamic times and undeniably the dawn of a new era for Canadian business.
At JS Daw & Associates we predict that 2015 will be a turning point; one where leading businesses will move beyond traditional sustainability, CSR and philanthropy (now expected) and embrace their own social purpose and social goals.
They will use this commitment to positively benefit and add meaningful value to both community and business. In the process, they will help reimagine a new role for business in society.What and Why a Social Purpose?Society is facing a host of systemic challenges beyond the capacity of existing institutions and traditional structures and mindsets.
Problems from climate change, to growing scarcity of water, to youth unemployment, to traffic gridlock and long-term poverty and inequity continue to increase. These major social and environmental issues affect us all regardless of the sector in which we work.
Internal and external pressures are demanding that pure profits can no longer be the sole reason for business. Rather than just traditional wealth creation business has the opportunity to use its scale, resources, and innovation imperative to be a catalyst for a better world and to reinvigorate and empower business at the same time.
Today, leading companies are moving beyond what they have done internally to drive a better world.
Companies are developing their own social goals and looking outward to take a stand on social issues. They are exploring how they can be more sustainable across all aspects of their value chain and embed a wider sense of social purpose into everyday business.
The companies that are as focused on the positive social outcomes they deliver as they are on making a profit will be seen as more involved and committed. In turn they will be viewed as demonstrating integrity and conviction for the defining issues of our time.
Citizens will endorse, support, and buy from the companies that combine profit with purpose, and effectively redefine their broader contribution to society and the planet.Combining Profit and PurposeA number of studies reveal the growing push for companies to take on social goals. But one recent major study released in October 2014 exposed the different views of current and future business leaders.
The findings reveal a paradigm shift between the CEOs of today and those who will be running our businesses in the next decade. Current CEOs and future business leaders agree that business should provide value to society above and beyond a financial return to shareholders – with 88 per cent of current leaders and 90 per cent of future leaders stating that business should have a social purpose.
However the ‘millennial’ generation’s expectations of business have shifted far beyond those of current leaders. Only one in five future business leaders think companies already have a clear focus on social purpose today, compared with over four in five current leaders.
This millennial generation will not only become the CEOs of our future, but the politicians, shareholders, and customers. It is clear that the demand for business to demonstrate social and environmental purpose will increase in the years to come.
Bell’s Bold Social Commitment
Bell has embraced the imperative of combining a social purpose with its profit motives. This past Fall I had the opportunity to hear Mr. Cope speak about his decision to lead Bell’s social commitment to de-stigmatize and support mental health in the workplace and society.
As the largest employer in Canada, Mr. Cope explained the number one cause of employee absence at Bell Canada was mental health.
Bell is not alone in facing this major business expense, in Canada it is estimated to be a $6 billion in lost productivity costs. The cost to individuals, families, and society at large is enormous – an additional $8 billion plus, which goes well beyond just financial outlay. As many as one in five Canadians have faced or will face mental health challenges in their lifetime and almost every Canadian has been affected by its impact.
Working from the inside out, Bell Canada instituted a major internal training initiative to ensure all staff from executives to managers and beyond had the tools and support to address workplace mental health challenges.
Externally Bell has championed the need to end stigma through its annual Let’s Talk social marketing campaign and its ongoing grants and major sponsorships of mental health initiatives across Canada. In addition Bell has worked with the Canadian Mental Health Commission and the Canadian Standards Association to launch an innovative, made-in-Canada standard for workplace mental health.
I encourage everyone to view the standard and champion it within your own workplace.
This is the sixth year for Bell Canada’s long term commitment to mental health and early measures show its working – saving the company money, advancing an under-served well-being issue for all Canadians, and gaining accolades from staff, partners, health care professionals and society at large. See Bell's new ads.
More Companies Embrace Social Purpose GoalsBell is not alone. Other Canadian businesses are stepping up and taking on their own social goals to stand beside their financial motives. A few standouts include: Canadian Tire Corporation’s Jumpstart initiative is dedicated to removing financial barriers so kids across Canada can play sports. One in three Canadian families cannot afford to enroll their children in organized sports and physical activities.Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, in its tenth year pioneered the notion that business could drive social change and advance its business. See our blog on the history of their 10-year social commitment.RBC and Blue Water, The RBC Blue Water Project is an historic, wide-ranging, 10-year global commitment to help protect the world's most precious natural resource: fresh water.The Future Belongs to Social Purpose
A long-term shift will begin in 2015 that will see companies moving from a focus on being responsible to taking on responsibility to address and make real progress on social initiatives that affect business and society.
Having a social purpose will guide business, inspire it and give us a reason to reevaluate our views on the role of business in society.
Those that deliver their social purpose with integrity, authenticity, and tangible outcomes will be rewarded with greater customer loyalty, more sales, and the intrinsic satisfaction of participating in creating a better society.
At JS Daw & Associates, we believe that every corporation has an overarching social purpose that transcends the operations of corporate social responsibility and, when well understood and effectively integrated, can have profound business and social results.
In 2015, how organizations survive and thrive in this period of dramatic changes requires new thinking and a shift from social commitments, community engagement, and connectivity at the periphery of their business to their strategic core. New ideas and new approaches are required. Emergent social purpose goals, cross-sector partnerships, shared value strategies, and social innovation will be at the heart.