Faculty Q + A
Business on Purpose with Social Impact Faculty Allyson Hewitt
Allyson Hewitt SingularityU Canada’s Social Impact Faculty, is the Senior Fellow, Social Innovation at the MaRS Discovery District – North America’s largest urban innovation hub. A global leader in social innovation and impact, Allyson works with social ventures, corporate innovators, and ecosystem partners to drive economic, social, and environmental sustainability. Beyond her work at MaRS, Allyson is also a McConnell Foundation, Senior Fellow; the University of Waterloo Social Entrepreneur in Residence, and the Thinker in Residence for Australia’s Don Dunstan Foundation. A change leader at heart, Allyson has helped develop and led the national initiative Social Innovation Generation (SiG); the social finance programs of the Centre for Impact Investing; the MaRS Solutions Lab, a change lab designed to tackle complex challenges; and Studio Y, an initiative designed to support youth in thriving in the new economy.
In the latest SingularityU Canada Meet the Faculty webinar, Allyson discussed how purpose is the future of business, a topic that generated so many questions that we did not have time to respond to all of them on the webinar. So, as promised, Allyson has responded to the outstanding questions and provided additional insight into how you can (and must) combine profit and purpose to create organizations that will thrive in an exponential world.
What roles, skills or people are needed or are being recruited by businesses to transition to a more impactful economy? How do people outside of the business sector influence or contribute?
There are certainly people making transitions between sectors. In fact, we are encouraging the development of tri-sector leaders, but more often than not, we see the not-for-profit sector hiring those with business skills, especially at the senior levels instead of the other way around.
We need to create a “business case” for why corporates could benefit by hiring those from outside the business sector.
There are lots of ways people outside the business sector can influence or contribute to any sector. In the webinar, we discussed the opportunity to influence decisions as both consumers and shareholders. Other ways include linking corporates to meaningful pro bono opportunities in the social impact sector (going beyond “painting a wall”); to helping change the perspective of other sectors which are currently defined by what they are instead of the impact they make. Finally, we need to create opportunities for cross-sector collaboration to solve our tough challenges and create spaces for the various perspectives each sector brings to bear.
How has the move towards purpose changed or influenced traditional philanthropy (i.e. corporate giving, founding foundations)?
Philanthropy (like most sectors) is experiencing significant change, including the desire of high-net-worth donors to become more engaged – beyond (but always including) cheque writing.
Philanthropy used to be the primary way certain groups of people “did good” alongside volunteering. Today, there are more ways to leverage your funds, through efforts like impact investing, which will help you achieve both financial and social impact.
The philanthropic sector is best advised to be aware of these trends, to determine how efforts such as layered financing (starting with a grant and then moving to a loan for programs that have the capacity to generate income) can get us to new levels of impact.
Can you share any suggestions on resources for the impact of purpose-driven business on traditional philanthropy?
A book recommendation is Winners Take All by Anand Giridharadas. This book is getting a lot of attention and is worth reading as a challenge to some of the dominant trends exercised by high net worth philanthropists in particular. For more on that topic, see how they are setting up companies to invest (instead of foundations) to approach the issues they choose differently. Here is one such article on that topic.
“We are in a war for talent, but you can win by putting purpose first.”- Allyson Hewitt
In your opinion, where would purpose sit within a company’s business model? Should it be coupled with the value proposition (proposition to be seen through the lens of purpose)?
Purpose should be at the core of a business model. Since 2011, Michael Porter and Mark Kramer have been working on a “Creating Shared Value” approach that addresses this concept (in a way that resonates with many), and in a recent speaking event I attended in Sydney, the dominant narrative was that if “purpose is the why – creating shared value is the how.” You are advised to decide for yourself how best to position purpose in your organization based on the state of readiness for adoption.
Are you aware of any organizations or investment firms doing ROP (Return of Purpose) evaluation? Business case for the purpose and social impact movement?
I have not been doing work in this area using this language, but it all seems related. The dominant theme still seems to be “Social Return on Investment” analysis. But it appears the Centre for Executive Excellence has been exploring this concept, and Ketchum and Carol Cone have completed this work. All are very interesting contributions to the field.
It’s clear that CSR (corporate social responsibility) and 3BL (triple bottom line) need to evolve, and purpose seems to be the way forward. In your opinion, where did the 3BL model fall short in addressing sustainable development issues?
I’m not sure if the model fell short in as much as I think it evolved, as all these movements do.
It is, however, a great question worth exploring more fully and I’d be keen to hear the input of others. If I had to guess, it would be that it did not hold these activities at the core of the business but as adjuncts, or ‘nice to do’s,’ instead of the social and business imperatives that they are.
Allyson, you were instrumental in bringing BCorps to Canada. How do you see this fitting into the “Business on Purpose” space?
B Corps are a growing global movement and they are certainly worth exploring, if only to take their free online assessment to determine areas for improvement. There is real leadership coming from this movement and I’d suggest people read their response to the Business Roundtable latest doctrine on the purpose of a corporation.
You were on the Steering Group that developed the Social Innovation and Social Finance strategy for Canada with the federal government – are corporates playing a role at this level?
Yes, but it is marginal. Interestingly, I’m hearing more about the Task Force on Sustainable Finance, and our goals should be to integrate the work on this group and that of the SISF Strategy. We definitely have room for more engagement here.
Watch the full recording of Allyson’s webinar – Business on Purpose!