UK: Looking Again At The Purpose Of Business

Last Updated: 31 January 2013
Article by Rachel Searle

Most Read Contributor in UK, August 2017

I was lucky enough to be invited to the panel session as part of a day-long Social Impact Workshop. It was hosted by Deloitte UK and attended by many of the Deloitte Social Innovation Pioneers—a programme that is working with 30 socially innovative businesses, providing them with a bespoke package of Deloitte support to help them mainstream and become investment-ready.  

During the session, a significant part of the discussion revolved around how social businesses can demonstrate their impact in society with rigour and consistency. Someone from the floor made the very insightful remark that (to paraphrase) 'Surely this impact measurement stuff is only going to work and have real value if all businesses measure their performances in this way, not just 'social businesses'. Hetook the words right out of my mouth.

I am part of a DTTL team that, along with clients and partners from other industries and sectors, is trying to 'reimagine business' and look again at the purpose of business. Can we recalibrate the contribution that our core business activities make to global society? At its most fundamental, isn't business, hasn't it always been, and shouldn't it always be about building society?

Without wanting to take anything away from the enormously impressive outcomes achieved by social entrepreneurs the world over, we believe that building a flourishing society for all is not a task that should just fall solely to social enterprises, governments, NGOs, and departments in corporations that are separately dedicated to 'responsibility' or 'sustainability'. Indeed, our call is for every business to identify and articulate the contribution its core business makes to society, embrace that sense of broader purpose, and pursue it with all the resources at its disposal. Can we break down the walls or perception between 'business activity' on the one hand and 'building a better society' on the other? Are not business and society inextricable from each other? Indeed, are they not one and the same thing?

Embracing a sense of purpose is one thing but measuring it is quite another! The private sector has a significant role to play in the effort to measure societal impact, but any successful framework must result from a collaborative effort that draws in expertise from a variety of fields—social entrepreneurship, public policy, business, academia, human development theory.

At the Deloitte Network, we believe that developing the right kind of metrics really matters.

We are beginning to develop a pioneering methodology to allow all businesses to 'report against purpose', going beyond economic impact measurement to incorporate qualitative and quantitative metrics for the positive impact that core business activities have on building a prosperous, sustainable society.

Our belief is that what business achieves can be measured by more than just financial gains (although these are undoubtedly important).  In addition to making profit, business helps create different freedoms for individuals. For example, banks allow individuals to create and innovate through the provision of financial products such as loans. Telecommunications firms give individuals the freedom to connect with each other across the world and pharmaceutical companies allow many individuals to enjoy freedom from suffering.

The challenge of measuring a business's social impact should not be left to social entrepreneurs alone. As our Social Innovation Pioneers have proven, and innovative mainstream businesses are beginning to agree, success at its core should not be measured merely by profit. Instead, our definition of success should be broadened to include the positive change business creates in wider society—a change our social entrepreneurs are striving to measure.

Read Deloitte Impact 2012

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