• Make The World Better Magazine /

The Purpose Business: Championing Organizational Purpose

The Purpose Business is getting businesses in Asia on board with organizational purpose and propelling them toward a sustainable future. Learn all about their mission in this exclusive interview with Pat Dwyer, Founder, as featured in Make The World Better Magazine.

/ 6 mins / SparxTeam

Sustainable development and purpose are intrinsically linked, and organizational purpose lends clarity and direction to the role companies can play in making a positive impact. Yet, business-as-usual and profit-centric models are hard to dethrone, especially when belief gaps exist around the power of purpose in business.

We spoke with Pat Dwyer, Founder of The Purpose Business, about how this company is getting more businesses in Asia on board with organizational purpose and propelling them toward a sustainable future.

Pat Dwyer, Founder and Director of the Purpose Business and Purpose and Sustainability Leader.

What inspired you to start advocating for the Wellbeing Economy?

In 2015, when The Purpose Business (TPB) was established in Hong Kong, the concept of organizational purpose was a pipe dream. At best, it was seen as trivial and no more than a marketing ploy. Despite strong headwinds, we were resolute in our conviction that sustainable business practices and the overarching goal of enhancing the wellbeing of people and planet can only be achieved by starting with clarity and activating a company’s intrinsic “why.”

Our journey began in the early days of corporate social responsibility (CSR), then the best expression of business contribution to social good. We recognized CSR as a first step was largely limited and didn’t encompass the business model transformation necessary for sustainable business practices to thrive. We saw an educational and belief gap around the role and power of purpose in business, presenting us with an exciting opportunity to lead the way in integrating purpose-driven practices in Asia.

We are determined to demonstrate that purpose is a critical lever for strategic change, not a peripheral consideration, and we are committed to guiding leaders to bridge the gap between corporate aspirations and action in order to propel organizations toward a sustainable future. 

What do you consider to be your biggest success as an advocate and professional in this space? Can you share any stories of the impact your work has had that have surprised you? 

TPB was born out of our genuine belief that businesses in Asia will one day be responsible business exemplars, surpassing the most admired Western companies. Within our first two years, TPB was working with Asia’s most established homegrown brands, listed companies, and multinationals who wanted localized impact. We’ve witnessed remarkable shifts in our clients over the past eight years, moving from extreme conservatism to viewing sustainability as a strategic imperative. 

We’re also experiencing, in real-time, the positive impacts of our efforts to advance organizational purpose as a tool for responsible businesses in Asia, both through our client work and educational outreach. We are particularly proud of our “Purpose and Values” work with the Philippines-based company, Universal Robina Corporation (URC), one of the largest branded consumer food and beverage product companies in the Philippines. Together with our strategic partner Within People, we helped URC to craft its purpose statement and related values and ambition to be a beacon for the company as a responsible business actor.

We knew from the start that raising awareness and investing in education for our wider audience — focused on corporate sustainability imperatives and the critical role of organizational purpose in driving change — had to be a key part of our offerings. We were among the first to introduce orientation sessions on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Asia, hosting events in Hong Kong and Manila to inspire companies to align with these global goals. 

Part of our ongoing educational offerings include our signature “Breakfast with Purpose” events, which feature highly engaging speakers and facilitate intimate dialogue touching on some of the most pressing sustainability issues. 

How do you feel that shifting to a Wellbeing Economy will help make the world better?

Sustainable development is intrinsically linked to purpose. If sustainability is about securing an equitable future that espouses wellbeing for all people and planet, then organizational purpose brings clarity to the role that businesses play in delivering positive impact. The cost of clinging to short-term profit maximization is untenable. Industry leaders who understand this are stepping forward, using organizational purpose as a strategic tool to stay ahead and align with societal and systemic pressures. 

Amidst the complexities of sustainability, purpose provides clarity and direction. It’s not just about ratings or superficial metrics; purpose positions us to make better investment decisions, rethinking business models that have traditionally been profit-centric. This shift allows us to move beyond shareholder supremacy, focusing on the wellbeing of all stakeholders. A truly purposeful organization is the gold standard for enterprises aligned with a sustainable future — it offers a blueprint for businesses to thrive while contributing positively to the planet and its people.

The Purpose Business (TPB) conducting one of many “The Why” and “The What” of Organizational Purpose sessions with senior corporate leaders in Asia. This session took place in Singapore.

What are some of the challenges you typically face in advocating for the Wellbeing Economy?

Old habits die hard, and this is even truer for entrenched business-as-usual models. Globally, there’s broad consensus that our current path is unsustainable, and while there’s general agreement on what sustainability requires, the path to achieving it is less clear. Organizational purpose offers a way forward, serving as a moral compass for businesses and prompting crucial decisions, particularly at the C-suite level. However, this transformation challenges deep-seated successes built around traditional leadership styles.

Implementing purpose as a core strategy involves rethinking business models and operational processes, and this requires an overhaul of everything we currently know. Resistance to change, whether due to skepticism or inertia, is a natural obstacle, especially when nothing seems to be broken. We know that ultimately we need to shift business models to longer-term thinking — and that includes accepting the cost of capital, investing in longer-term horizons, and non-stop education and effective communication.

Measuring the impact of purpose-driven initiatives demands a mindset shift in the way we think of reward structures and returns on investment, along with the utmost transparency. While financial metrics are well-established for traditional business models, quantifying long-term societal and environmental impacts remains a challenge. Developing robust metrics for these areas is crucial for validating the approach and encouraging wider adoption.

In Asia, advocating for purpose is further challenged by continued population and economic growth, which translates into an increasing demand for resources and energy. As the world’s largest energy consumer with an industry-heavy economy, companies in Asia face the complex challenge of balancing growing energy needs with the imperative to decarbonize. 

Are there any upcoming initiatives or projects related to your work/the Wellbeing Economy you’d like to share? 

As we live up to our purpose of guiding leaders to elevate businesses in Asia as a force for good, we intend to be the convening entity of Asia’s brain trust of purpose in action. This means engaging with, learning from, and facilitating the open exchange of experience and learnings, as well as addressing the challenges that purpose transformation confronts in our ever-growing markets.

To this end, we were thrilled to kick off 2024 with a webinar on how to put purpose into action, featuring case studies and best practice sharing from purpose-driven companies from the UK and Asia.

This is just the first of several educational events we have planned for 2024, with purpose and sustainability at the forefront.  

What can people do to help spread the word about or take action toward transitioning to the Wellbeing Economy? How can they support your mission?

It’s essential to first understand and internalize the concept of organizational purpose. This is a radical shift away from business-as-usual models. It puts aside profit maximization as the key driver for business and considers how a company contributes to the broader wellbeing of people and planet. How is shared stakeholder value created to ensure resilience and productivity for generations to come? 

People can advocate for this shift at every level, but it’s particularly crucial at the C-suite level. Leadership must champion, articulate, and live purpose in every decision and policy. This isn’t just about having a purpose statement; it’s about evaluating how much of your business is shifting toward sustainability and purpose, and how deeply these values are embedded in your operations and culture.

Ultimately, whether we are thinking through our lens as individuals or as employees, it’s about aligning with the greater good — shifting the focus from “what’s in it for me” to “what’s in it for all.”

This story was featured in the Make The World Better Magazine:

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