The new relationship between companies and citizens: shared purpose
The dream of collaboration between companies and public institutions is starting to come true. On 3 June, the World Economic Forum1 (WEF) issued a statement promoting the idea of a ‘Great Reset’ following the huge economic impact caused by the coronavirus. “Many companies have stepped up to support their workers, customers and local communities, in a shift towards a kind of stakeholder capitalism. The level of cooperation and ambition this implies is unprecedented. But it is not some impossible dream”, said the WEF.
For a decade, the business landscape has been undergoing a paradigm shift to deal with a number of major transformations, such as the digital transition and the so-called ecological transition. More recently, business leaders have been issuing statements with commitments to promote a new business management model steered by corporate purpose: a perspective based on the longterm social impact by companies, integrating stakeholder expectations, capable of inspiring the organization and creating a message that transcends the concepts of corporate mission, vision and values.
“The magnitude of the challenges is prioritizing the ability of companies to work with public and academic institutions on finding solutions to”
The unforeseeable and profound crisis caused by the coronavirus has possibly given leaders the greatest economic and social challenge of their entire lives. This is forcing urgent reflection: does purpose need to be redefined?
From purpose to shared purpose
The magnitude of the challenges we now face is prioritizing the ability of companies to work with public and academic institutions on finding solutions to more pressing global problems, starting with the protection of health and well-being, the economic recovery and saving jobs, and consolidating the goals to combat poverty and climate change.
This desire to collaborate is the basis for expanding purpose as we understand it today and taking it to the next level: shared purpose. Shared purpose not only implies the instrumental act of collaboration between various institutions and stakeholders with a common goal but also, above all, a focus from companies on citizens. Shared purpose seeks to solve a specific problem for citizens, not just to integrate stakeholder expectations into the company.
A good example of shared purpose in the field of health and the fight against poverty is that promoted by the Mundo Sano Foundation4 in 2018 to end the maternal-infant transmission of Chagas disease by 2030. At present, this organization works with expert international bodies, such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), and receives support from public institutions, such as the IberoAmerican Secretariat-General (SEGIB), the public health systems of various countries, academic institutions that include Harvard University and numerous stakeholders with ties to neglected diseases, health professionals and patient associations, among others.
“This desire to collaborate is the basis for expanding purpose as we understand it today and taking it to the next level: shared purpose”
Using the case of Mundo Sano and its fight against Chagas disease as a reference point, four principles or characteristics of a shared purpose can be identified:
- Relevance. It targets a social need that is included on long-term global agendas, such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals6 (SDG). “No Baby with Chagas in 2030” is a shared purpose that falls in line with the WHO and PAHO strategies. It also targets health goals that are achievable by 2030, as set out in the SDG.
- Achievability. A moral commitment is made and successfully maintained over time because the challenge is specific and achievable. Mundo Sano has shown it is possible to ensure that no baby is born with Chagas disease in 2030 if coordinated action is taken on diagnosing and treating women of fertile age.
- Scalability. It is implemented using sustainable, replicable, scalable and transferable action models. The fight against Chagas disease can be used as an example of how to destroy the resignation around certain diseases and as a model to combat other forgotten and invisible diseases.
- Based on scientific evidence. This is one of the principles promoted by Mundo Sano from the outset and one that was recently ratified in the research by Michael Kremer, who received the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics in 2019 for an experimental approach to alleviating global poverty.
Towards activist leadership
Activist leadership is also needed when implementing a shared purpose, which includes pro-active action against injustice and making efforts without resigning to the acceptance of global problems.
“Activist leadership is also needed when implementing a shared purpose”
We have recently witnessed several examples of this type of leadership around the world. Numerous business leaders in Spain are demonstrating how to be an outstanding activist leader who, despite all the obstacles, always offers a solution. Leaders who understand that the time has come to realize that dream in which all institutions and companies work together via a shared purpose, with citizens at the center.