In the past several years, powerful shifts in public desire have changed what we buy, how we buy it, from whom we buy it, why we buy it, and how much of it we buy. We go to farmers’ markets for local and organic produce. When we travel, we rent out rooms in people’s homes instead of staying in a hotel. We freelance for opportunity and experience rather than commit to one company until retirement. We go online to learn. We care about the communities affected by our consumption.
I’m not an economist, a sociologist, or a psychologist. I am an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs look for emerging trends, and what these trends point to is a shift driven by the pursuit of purpose. In my 13 years of running the Taproot Foundation, a nonprofit that engages thousands of professionals in pro bono service and builds pro bono programs for companies, I witnessed this firsthand.
Through conversations with hundreds of professionals and reading applications from thousands more, I discovered they were all driven by the need for purpose. We have a need for purpose in our lives, which we gain by serving needs greater than our own in ways that enable personal growth and build community.
The Purpose Economy is the new context and set of ways in which entrepreneurs are creating value. A Purpose Economy organization is one that makes the creation of purpose their imperative. Companies that are forming and thriving in this new economy create solutions to address the desire for purpose in people’s lives, for their clients, employees and supply chain. As a result, they often take on the major challenges facing society and the environment.
Social entrepreneurs are critical in this new economy. They are the innovators who are leading with purpose and transforming our world. Pioneering social entrepreneurs that have popularized the idea of “doing well by doing good,” include Paul Hawken of Smith & Hawken, Ben & Jerry’s, and Anita Roddick of the Body Shop as well as Whole Foods Market’s John Mackey and Virgin’s Richard Branson who have worked to “[put] people and the planet alongside profit.”
Larger companies like Pepsi and Walmart have also begun to explore this new economy. Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi introduced a mission of “performance with purpose” where “healthy eats” and the environment are tied to success. Even Walmart CEO Doug McMillon found that a commitment to sustainability can be a competitive advantage as customers look for products with fewer chemicals causing less damage to their bodies and the environment.
The rise of social innovation is further evidence of this change. The White House launched the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation and media outlets from Fast Company to Germany’s Capital are opening up their coverage to include business impact on society.
The three types of purpose that are transforming the economy are personal, social and societal purpose. On a personal level, we generate purpose by cultivating self-awareness to understand what needs to change in ourselves and then making these necessary changes. We find purpose when we are do things we love, attempt new challenges, and express our voice to the world. Companies like Etsy, an online marketplace where millions buy and sell handcrafted products, demonstrate the value of personal purpose.
On a social level, we find purpose by sharing connection with others. Sharing creates meaning. We see this in the success of social media platforms, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, that allow people to express themselves. We discover this in our teams at the workplace and witness this in the increase of co-working spaces.
For societal purpose, we strive to contribute to the well-being of the world around us. Societal purpose isn’t isolated to volunteering and philanthropy, or careers in education and social work. While these often spark feelings of purpose, we can also find meaning through our daily work, where we help provide consumers with our products and services.
At its foundation, the Purpose Economy creates purpose for people. It serves the critical need for people to develop themselves, be part of a community, and affect something greater than themselves. In almost every industry and throughout our culture, we see evidence that the future is purpose.
To start infusing purpose into your work and life, clearly understanding what drives purpose for you greatly increases your odds of success. This starts by asking key questions, such as who do you work for, why do you work and how do you work. More information can be found by going to www.imperative.com
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