Purpose Conference Round Up 2015


 Last week I had the wonderful fortune of attending a brand spanking new conference in Sydney. Now not every day do you come across a conference where it feels like the organisers have gotten into your head, read your thoughts, seen your desires and created something just for you, but that’s what the wonderful folk at Wildwon did with Purpose.

Held at the wonderful Eternity Playhouse (home to the Darlinghurst Theatre Company) - Purpose was a gathering of like minds from across Australia jamming together on theme of what it means to be a purpose driven business in today’s crazy world. And let me tell you - it was inspiring.

Firstly, from a pure operational and design perspective - this was one of the most well put together conferences I’ve ever been to. The experience was lovingly crafted down to every last detail - this included custom made name tags, purpose driven toilet paper and even specifically selected animal noises in the toilets. No, I’m not kidding. It was a great example of what you can create when you know your user and intentionally craft their entire end to end experience of your product or service. Massive props to the Wildwon crew.

Despite the near flawlessness of how the conference was run however, it was something else that made it so special. The people. Every single person I met was purpose driven - whether they were at the beginning of their journey to purposeful work or well and truly immersed in it.

Purpose Conference 2105
Purpose Conference 2105

There was no one size fits all of what purpose looked liked for them. Some were working for not for profits or social enterprises, some were starting businesses, others were working in corporate or government, others were artists or environmentalists or writers. The point is - purpose comes in all shapes and sizes and there is no right or wrong way to seek it.

The sessions themselves and the conversations in between were also pretty darn inspiring. While I will struggle to fit the two whole days into a blog, here are a few points either from others or my own reflections that I feel are worth some consideration:

Shift is happening

I put this one first, because I think it’s possibly the most exciting. As someone fuelled by purpose (and I’m guessing you may be too if you’re reading this), I often find myself thinking “Is it just me? Are other people really getting on board with this?” Well I think I can safely say yes. They are. We may be at the beginning of the movement, but the very energy at Purpose demonstrated to me there is hope.

One of the talks by James Chin Moody - Founder and CEO of Sendle - spoke about the different waves of innovation and how we are entering the 6th wave. In this wave, things are shifting towards models that are far more purpose driven and consider the social and environmental costs and opportunities of doing business. So it’s not just me - some smart people have backed this up.

Purpose can be a competitive advantage

Given the above, alongside the difficulty of standing out in today’s overcrowded business world - purpose is actually a source of competitive advantage. A great example of this was the wonderful Who Gives a Crap - a toilet paper company who donate 50% of their profits to sanitation projects in the 3rd world.

Think about it this way - do you think of you asked any savvy business person would have backed a small, local toilet paper company to enter the market successfully against established giants in the environment of Australia’s supermarket duopoly? Probably not. But that’s exactly what Who Gives a Crap has done. How? Their purpose. The thing they stand for.

Purposeful Purchasing Power and Procurement

Linked to purpose as a competitive advantage, is one of the surprisingly interesting areas relating to purpose driven business that kept popping up over the course of the two days. Procurement. Yes, you heard me, I just said procurement is interesting.

There were some great examples of how the purchasing of sustainable, ethical and socially driven products and services can have a major positive impact. It’s not just purchasing these types of products and services that can have a big impact however - actually writing procurement guidelines around employing social enterprises or socially driven products and services into procurement criteria can have huge flow on effects.

For example, Mark Daniels of Social Traders  spoke of how a community housing estate he worked on transformed employment rates amongst residents by including a requirement for cleaning and security contractors to employ a certain percentage of people from community housing developments in the area.

Who are the influencers?

This brings up another point (mentioned by Abigail Forsyth of Keep Cup) which I think every purpose driven business should consider. Who are your influencers? Who are the people or organisations that you need to convince of your mission or vision? For Mark’s example above - it was convincing suppliers (somewhat forcefully, yet cleverly by using procurement). For Keep Cup, a big influencer was baristas - the kings and queens of the coffee industry. Keep Cups had to be both practical and ‘hip’ enough to get them on board.

Intrinsic vs. extrinsic values and motivation

Influencing people is easier said than done, but important levers we can pull to this end are values and motivation. Both Dr Jason Fox (of Dr Jason Fox funnily enough) and Eleanor Glenn of Common Cause spoke from different angles on the need for focus on intrinsic values and motivation. For many purposes (with some exceptions such as repetitive tasks), focusing on the intrinsic is far more effective than the extrinsic.

Intrinsic values are those that are “inherently rewarding to pursue” eg. Self-acceptance or concern for others. Extrinsic values are those “centered on external approval or reward” eg. Social status or authority (Common Cause, 2015). Apparently flexing our intrinsic muscles is actually better for our wellbeing. Common Cause have some great free resources on values at http://www.commoncause.org.au. Also check out Dr Jason Fox’s book The Game Changer.

Some other great points

As to not get too long winded, here are a few other points of note:

  • Purpose is not always for good. Purpose can be about money, or power or greed. For purpose is the boat, it needs to have an ethical rudder.
  • Your purpose can change. Pretty simple, but a good one to remember.
  • Social enterprise is one of the hardest things you can do - you are trying to do two very difficult things in one: 1. Create a sustainable business. 2. Change the world. (Please don’t let that stop you trying through, but it’s good to know what you’re up against).
  • When in doubt, DO SOMETHING! Don’t get stuck in inaction.

Finally…. Purpose is a privilege

This one really got me. It was a big ah-ha. Many of us are extremely fortunate to have been born where we were born, had the opportunities we’ve had, lived the lives we’ve lived. Generally speaking we have rights, enough food, shelter, safety. Our lives are mostly not at risk from disease, persecution or abuse. This is not the case for so many of the world’s population. The mere fact we can think about doing work with purpose is a privilege many don’t have and not something they would ever consider. This for me is all the more reason why those of us who do have this privilege, should embrace it with all we can muster. Audette Exel from Adara Group  spoke of a quote from one of the people in her team that I think sums this up to perfection “We are safe - so now we must help others”.

Did you enjoy this article? Have any brain waves? Want to share a thought or idea? I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below or come and join the conversation at the Good Work Revolution facebook group