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Defining Your Corporate Purpose

A strong majority of Canadians recognize that business and corporations play a vital role in the economy by creating jobs, fostering innovation and providing essential goods and services. At the same time, Canadians believe businesses and organizations do not care enough about the societal challenges that concern them.

For example, half of Canadians want governments to do more to tackle the country’s environment and climate change challenges; inequalities of wealth and income; and inequities and discrimination in the treatment of Canadians. Meanwhile, approximately one third of Canadians want non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to do more to address these issues.

Fundamentally, organizations are not seen to be sufficiently addressing the greatest challenges we face: wealth inequality, a changing climate, and inequitable treatment and discrimination.

Prompted by this rising urgency, business leaders around the world are reassessing the primacy of the shareholder and the idea that the sole purpose of business is profit. The events of recent years have laid bare both the interconnectedness of all stakeholders and the cost of ignoring these relationships. The moment demands that businesses define their purpose in a way that meaningfully addresses all stakeholders and their needs.

Changing expectations have also created vital opportunities to bring employees — current and future — onboard with your organization as never before, to align your purpose with your operational priorities, and to help solve the problems facing the world. Defining purpose goes beyond precursor mandates of Environmental Sustainability and Governance, and Corporate Social Responsibility, to get to the heart of an organization, its impact and its direction.

Why Does Purpose Matter Now?

The Centre’s research shows that the majority of Canadians (55%) believe capitalism should be reformed so that it is more inclusive, fairer and more sustainable. Less than half (48%) indicate that business is “a force of good within society.”

These and other findings suggest that businesses doing more for stakeholders can be rewarded by their current and prospective employees. The majority of Canadians (56%) state they are personally willing to accept a lower salary to work for a business which espouses the “stakeholder model”.

If businesses do not step up, they collectively face the risk that change will be thrust upon them. In fact, a significant majority (65%) of Canadians are calling on government to force businesses and corporations to put environmental and stakeholder considerations on par with profits or shareholder return while making decisions. Two-thirds of Canadians agree that if we’re going to overcome climate change (69%) and inequalities (66%), governments in Canada need to get tougher with Canadian businesses and corporations through laws, regulations, and taxes.

This reality poses serious challenges for businesses and organizations but also crucial opportunities for growth and future success. For organizations committed to pursuing their purpose, the moment to act is now.

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