Why Defining Your Purpose Is Essential In Creating Positive Social Impact


To celebrate our 50th episode of Impact Boom, we've begun the Impact Boom Report series. The reports will arm you with deep insights, trends and inspiration on chosen themes to help you turn your ideas into impact. Snippets from episodes with world-leading changemakers from our archives have been pieced together, with the first report focussing on 'purpose'.

You'll hear strong perspectives on purpose and how it relates to entrepreneurship, leadership, staff retention, branding and running sustainable organisations.

As Helen Keller once said, "True happiness is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose."


How might you find, define, communicate and be driven by your purpose to lead a Fulfilling life?


Highlights from this episode (listen to the podcast for full details)

[Tom Allen] - Whilst I always felt there was a greater purpose to what I was doing in my work, it wasn't something I had fully considered until I watched Simon Sinek's 2009 TED talk called 'How Great Leaders Inspire Action'. Within the talk, Simon unpacks his Golden Circle, which has helped myself and my clients over the years to better define and start with why with our projects.

We hear a lot about 'purpose-driven' and 'mission-driven' businesses, so when we spoke with Danielle Duell, we asked her about an article on LinkedIn she had written about why defining your ‘why’ is the most important statement your business can make. Danielle unpacked the difference between a business’ purpose and mission and shares further insights from the article. [2:02]

[Danielle Duell] - The article was inspired by some purpose-led strategy and transformation work we were doing with an energy wholesaler. We’d been working with the Executive team for a few months and were ready to share our progress with the board. Part of that work involved helping the organisation develop a purpose. Previously they’d only had a mission statement that in brief terms pretty much said, 'maximise shareholder returns and make sure no one gets hurt.' Their Chairman challenged me in the board meeting about the difference between mission and purpose and why it mattered. It’s true many organisations use the terms interchangeably, but we define purpose as being a statement that describes why the organisation exists. Whereas a mission is a statement that describes what we do for whom and how.

The other term that people often use interchangeably with either mission or purpose is vision. They're not the same thing. In our opinion a vision is a picture in words of what fulfilling your organisational purpose looks like that can capture the imaginations of your various stakeholders. 

The purpose is why we exist, the vision is a picture in words of what fulfilling that purpose looks like and the mission is a statement that describes what we do for whom and how.

[Tom Allen] - What do you believe are the 3 most important traits of effective, purpose-led leaders? [4:12]

[Danielle Duell] - I like the quote that if you're a leader, you have to have followers.

I know that I like to follow people who lead their own lives well. Purpose-led leaders also need to have empathy. They need to have a clear authentic purpose for their organisation; a clear why.

To have a clear purpose requires imagination and vision of what might be that's not yet.

Purpose-led leaders need the ability to communicate that effectively and they need the talent and discipline for attracting, inspiring and equipping others to execute on that.

Danielle Duell

Danielle Duell

[Tom Allen] - So whilst Danielle gave us a clear and succinct summary on the difference between purpose and mission, she also highlighted purpose as a key ingredient for successful leaders. And this is also something that Prof. Brad Jackson echoed when we spoke to him about leadership and social enterprise. Brad also spoke about the importance of place in leadership. This is what he said: [5:12]

[Prof. Brad Jackson] - My lifelong fascination is...

How do groups, communities, organisations, cities, sectors and countries, find a common identity, a common purpose, in a common direction? To me, that's the critical contribution that leadership makes.

I'm very impressed by the whole power of place and purpose in leadership. I'm encouraging people to move away from the whole personality, impositional obsession around leadership and actually saying, 'it starts where you are.' One of the key acts of leadership is actually to define what is important as far as place and purpose is concerned.

Orange Sky Laundry, founded by Nicholas Marchessi and Lucas Patchett

Orange Sky Laundry, founded by Nicholas Marchessi and Lucas Patchett

[Tom Allen] - On bringing the conversation back to organisations as a whole, when I spoke to Nicholas Marchessi and Lucas Patchett from Orange Sky Laundry, I asked them what they believe the fundamental ingredients are for building a successful organisation that creates positive impact? This is what they said:[6:16]

[Nicholas Marchesi & Lucas Patchett] - 

it comes back to knowing what your purpose is and then defining that product.

For us, very early on our purpose was purely to improve the hygiene standards of the homeless and very quickly we realised it was much more than that. It was people coming together, having a chat, connecting back with the community.

Our product is not something big and scary, it's not something that's not tangible; it's $6 for a load of washing. Anyone can buy into that.

You might a 1000, 10 or 1, but anyone can see the impact and stories we share on our social media. [Lucas shares what tangible information they can share with donors.] We can connect information with a donor. For us, it's knowing that product and knowing your purpose.

[Tom Allen] - Whilst knowing your product and purpose are considered essential, Wouter Kersten also pointed out some of the confusion that the 'purpose-driven' and 'mission-driven' terms can cause. He also pointed towards cashflow as one of the biggest challenges entrepreneurs can face. [7:34]

[Wouter Kersten] - 

As a sideline remark, you hear the terms 'purpose-driven' and 'mission-driven' and everyone sort of knows what that implies, but technically you could say that any company has a mission and purpose; maybe it's not a very social purpose. It implies distinction but it can also be confusing.

Coming back to your question, the first point is very basic and banal, and that's cashflow. In workshops I give about social entrepreneurship I use an abbreviation: CFIMITYM; Cash Flow Is More Important Than Your Mother. I always say, 'don't take this literally!' But it's something that is often underestimated. More so with social entrepreneurs because maybe they think, 'I have a social mission so someone will help me out financially and the banks will be easier on me.' That's simply not the case.

Just as lack of cashflow is a reason for failure for 8 out of 10 startups, it's the same for social startups. 


[Tom Allen] - Whilst cashflow was deemed really important by Wouter for any entrepreneur, I asked Arne van Oosterom what advice he would give to budding entrepreneurs, who have an idea but need to take action to get their initiative started. [9:35]

[Arne van Oosterom] - 

If you don't have a purpose it's going to be difficult to have a sustainable model.

[Arne gives an example about a Mexican client who had a water purification project and how it was very important for them to get to the bottom of their 'why'.]

Your idea is bigger than your product. You are not your technology, you are more than that. When you are about something bigger, like a movement, you can do more, you can collaborate more effectively. People can connect to your purpose and want to help.

[Arne ties this into the water purification project.]

Arne van Oosterom

Arne van Oosterom

Your purpose should be something bigger than your product. It helps you make decisions later when things get tough; when you technology doesn't work or when you're outdated. Then you have to make a choice to go to the left or right... but what fits with your purpose? Everybody who works with you will understand the decisions you make. This leads to a strong brand.

A brand is not your logo. It's your purpose and how you execute, act and behave.

It helps you get people in if you need to hire people and it also helps you keep those people because they understand why they work there. 

Don't make the mistake of trying to play business and act like you think you are supposed to. Don't start hiring people because you think you need to hire people, because companies hire people. There are always other scenarios and models.

Start with purpose and build from purpose. Use that as your blueprint and foundation to build whatever it is you want to build.

[Tom Allen] - On the topic of staff retention, Roger Warnock outlined how young people want purpose in a company and not just money. He also spoke about how this is important for talent retention if not for anything else. He also spoke about how social innovation and social enterprise are not the same thing. [15:04]

[Roger Warnock] - 

Up until a few years ago, certainly in the U.K., people thought social innovation and social enterprise are the same thing. They're not.

Social enterprise is a very small part of innovation. Social innovation is the fact that corporates now are involved, as well. So I think that's where the sector is transforming. There's a better understanding, and it's opening up.

I think, going forward, that will only increase. I think the big part, to me, the big opportunity is in the business side, because of those skills and resources. And also, the impact of millennials coming through, as well. I grew up in the 80's in the U.K. That was Thatcher. It was all about loads of money and "Make as much money as possible." That was what was bred into you. Whereas, now, (and this is coming through in all the Deloitte's questionnaires and surveys)...

Young people coming out of university want more. They want purpose within a company as well. It's not just about making a lot of money. And, I think that's going to have a significant impact on companies.

And they need to start looking at social innovation, various things, as well, for talent retention, if nothing else.

[Tom Allen] - When speaking to Tatiana Glad, I asked her what advice she would give to someone who is thinking of starting their own social impact initiative. [16:31]

[Tatiana Glad] - The first thing is to have a purpose and a sense of what you're trying to change in the world and what your theory of change is behind that. We could have five people working all on making food healthier but we might have five different approaches to that. I think they're all valid until the food system has actually shifted.


[Tom Allen] - Tatiana, what are the key ingredients required to create a healthy, collaborative and innovative work environment? [17:16]

[Tatiana Glad] - Shared purpose. Everything starts with that. Having a sense of what you are all working on together.

Participation. [Tatiana shares examples.]

Results. To look back on an understand what you have achieved and serve as a springboard for next step of your shared purpose and action.

Daniela Martinez's Cirklo Team at work in Mexico.

Daniela Martinez's Cirklo Team at work in Mexico.

When speaking with Daniela Martinez, who runs and innovation consultancy called Cirklo, Daniela spoke about the importance of doing meaningful work and why working with clients that have  strong sense of purpose is essential. [18:24]

[Daniela Martinez] - Innovation is always something that has to be pushed towards action. So what we put behind the action is not only to do things which are important, but you have to be strategic and there has to be a purpose.

What is Your bigger goal or bigger intention and how are you going to change the world?

[Daniela explains further about working on meaningful projects and the types of people they work with who have strong purpose.]

[Tom Allen] - In wrapping the podcast up Robert Pekin and Emma-Kate Rose leave us with some excellent food for thought. [19:23]

[Robert Pekin & Emma-Kate Rose] - 

[Rob talks about his time as a dairy farmer and how the farmers weren't aware of what was happening to the end product and how it made him start to think about how to address the system.]

Having that sense of purpose has always been the thing that has kept me going.

[Emma-Kate Rose] It teaches you a lot about yourself going into business.

Sometimes the purpose can be secondary to the life journey that you're undertaking.

Robert Pekin & Emma-Kate Rose with the Food Connect team.

Robert Pekin & Emma-Kate Rose with the Food Connect team.


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