I spoke at a conference last week called "Beyond Good Business" and felt at first that all the lunatics had been let out of the asylum at the same time and then realised we were creating a new asylum of our own. The event was filled with socially minded businesses and impact investors, people who only back ventures that have socially minded and measurable objectives.
The word on everybody's lips is one that I've only become familiar with recently in the context of building a business. It's slightly clumsy and sounds a bit hippy-ish: ecosystem – the shared values and networks a business has with its key stakeholders. The better word that is more easily gained traction with is purpose.
Why do we embark on the businesses that we do, how do we create value to more than shareholders, how do we prove what we say we want to do actually gets done (big difference from most charities) and how do we let everyone know what it is we are doing?
And everyone's at it. Mark Zuckerberg recently gave an address to Harvard about it and Heineken recently released one of the most talked-about commercials of recent times with its "Open Your World" campaign which only features the product right at the end of a series of conversations between people who had previously unpleasant views of people of certain dispositions and the find the person they have inadvertently engaged with fall within the category of their ire.
The ad positions the beer as the enabler of a more harmonious world. The hope behind it is that people who share those values will develop a loyalty to it.
Historically I've had tussles with shareholders in the restaurants I've run about doing things they'd call "fluffy stuff" and yearned for the time to come when it could actually be proven to be good for business beyond a rise in reputation to be undertaking a wider obligation to the many disadvantaged communities around us.
A number of our customers at Roast tell our managers that they choose to dine there not just because we have a great location, food and service but for a variety of factors you wouldn't ordinarily imagine to be key considerations. Some say they dine with us because we hire ex-offenders, some because we have a three star rating with the Sustainable Restaurants Association, some – would you believe – because of the diversity of our workforce.
Not only have consumers got better at complaining, but they have got better at making informed choices about which brands they choose to be affiliated with. The design agency The House has launched a magazine called Purpose and it's stacked with commercial case after commercial case of the benefit to businesses of looking beyond profit as the measure of success.
Indeed, it cites many examples of businesses which have since financial performance boosted by adopting more socially minded objectives and commitments.
Here are a few statistics: 65% of employees will got "the extra mile" if they work for an organisation with purpose (Calling Brands/YouGov), 80% of global executives believe a strong sense of purpose helps increase customer loyalty (Harvard Business Review) and my favourite – "meaningful brands" gain an average of 46% share on wallet of those that don't (Havas).
We're living in rapidly changing times. The rise of impact investment funds like Growth for Good set up by tech entrepreneur Martin Leuw actively seek out business to back which have core social outputs as well as healthy returns and they have more and more people wishing to follow on the back of the companies they choose to get involved with.
A private members club is being created in the heart of Mayfair which will only allow membership to people who have demonstrable social impacts in their businesses.
I've got impact/socially investors for my next project and I'm having conversations with them which would have seemed implausible or fanciful even a couple of years ago. They're saying to me that I should write a social charter into the articles of association, stipulating that even if commercial performance doesn't get off to a great start I mustn't let go of the social impact drivers. Who would have thought?
At the session of that conference I was speaking at, I repeated the point of my recent book that in the future, businesses – not charities or social enterprises – will deliver ever greater solutions to the world's problems. On reflection what I could have said, because the evidence is now all around us, because of purpose, the future of business is now.
Restaurateur Iqbal Wahhab OBE is the chair of Bounce Back and mentors ex-offenders wishing to start up their own businesses.