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June 23, 2021

Purpose-Led Business

Amber Riedl

Purpose-led Business 

At Tomorrow’s Education we know that learning extends beyond traditional classroom walls, and we are always supplementing our program with learning events from inspiring entrepreneurs and industry leaders, especially in the areas of Sustainability, Entrepreneurship and Tech. 

Our approach to learning starts with awareness of your own purpose because we believe this gives better focus and direction to learning and impact-oriented outcomes. If you don’t know why you are doing something, the motivation to do it, and do it well, will not be that strong. There is generally a trend towards talking about Purpose in work and business, and even the question of whether we enter a new age in society - moving from the Information Economy to the Purpose Economy. 

But what does this mean? And - can purpose and profit coexist? These were the questions that led us to organise a panel discussion on Purpose-led Business with three purposeful and impact-oriented entrepreneurs - Alina Bassi, Shaun Frankson and Lisa Hendrickson. Read about their journeys, and insights into the role of the consumer in purpose and other questions, below.

Meet Shaun Frankson, Co-Founder and CTO of The Plastic Bank

The Plastic Bank is the second business Shaun has founded together with David Katz at the age of 29, as a social enterprise that makes plastic waste a currency in developing countries to help reduce global poverty.  When they were thinking about this next business, they asked themselves what they could do, which would make life better for a billion people - a large goal. But they realised, their goal was not actually that big: “it takes just as much energy to create an impact business as a regular for profit business.” They started to look at plastic, and how they could transform recycling to be the starting point to a better life.

They wanted to address both the reduction of plastic hitting the ocean, and also consider how to turn plastic into an economic opportunity for the communities it affects. To do this at scale, they needed not just a business mindset, they needed tech. They decided to use blockchain technology to create a complete ledger of buying traceability and accountability, creating trust. This enables them to create better controls in the ecosystems where they are operating (Philippines, Indonesia, Brazil and Egypt, among others), to be transparently authentic and to do this at scale.

Meet Alina Bassi, Founder and CEO of Kleiderly

Alina learned about climate change at the age of 14, when her mom forced her to read the encyclopedia on summer holidays. Definitely not what a teenager wants to do on holiday, but it ended up being a seminal moment in her life. This sparked her interest in climate and sustainability, which has been a core driver of everything in her career since then; from chemical engineering processes of turning coffee waste into fuel, to designing factories. With her business Kleiderly, she was able to bring purpose and experience together and to create a patented chemical process for breaking textile waste back into plastic,  to create a circular economy and divert clothing waste away from landfills. Her mission is to lower the carbon footprint from fashion and save tonnes of CO2 emissions. She has created her first consumer product with this new plastic - ‘K-Tex’ in sunglasses, as a way to show the circularity of fashion.

Meet Lisa Hendrickson, COO of HCC and adjunct professor SUNY's Fashion Institute of Technology

Lisa has been focused on purpose for years, both in her own work, and as a mentor and advisor to companies across business segments looking for transformation through “purposeful disruption”. As COO of HCC, an innovative luxury interiors brand, Lisa devised the strategy that vaulted the company to becoming one of the fastest-growing companies in America while pioneering a triple bottom line strategy now standard in sustainable companies. She is an adjunct professor at Suny's Fashion Institute of Technology on The Sustainable Organization and The Purpose Driven Organization. For Lisa, purpose is not a grand gesture - it is about her and the change she wants to make in the world. About knowing what resonates with her, what is acceptable and not acceptable, as a way of guiding actions and activities.

Some interesting takeaways from our panel discussion: 

How has the conversation on purpose shifted? Have we entered the purpose economy? 

Shaun pointed out the value of purpose to employer branding : “When we talk to our customers in the EU (large DTC Brands), they are hugely aware of the importance of purpose to attracting and retaining employees - they are saying that by 2025, we’re going to be losing our staff, if they are not proud of what we are doing.”

Alina sees the focus on purpose in her business as a competitive advantage : “We have people who are so attracted by what we are doing, that they just really want to work with us, and donate their time from advisory to CRM set up.”

Lisa likes to reframe the discussion on purpose to extend beyond materials, it’s a whole approach to making work worthwhile. In her opinion, we need to make it about humans : “What kind of people are in those companies making change?”

Can purpose and profit co-exist? 

In Shaun’s opinion : “Yes - and they must. It is so important to have a business model that is self-sustaining, and not have to rely on donations and charity, which can dry up. I dream of the day when we can stop saying social enterprise and just call it business.”

Are consumers leading the way towards the purpose economy? 

Alina: “Now 40% of consumers are millennials, and to them, purpose matters. But there is a huge job of educating consumers on the problem - this is part of the work that we do with our community and content marketing.”

When thinking about consumers, Shaun has in mind that mass-produced purpose driven products have to be done at scale; and Lisa has in mind that consumers will need to be aware that this does have a price. 

Who is the last to get behind positive purpose?

Finance. As Lisa says “There is no line on a balance sheet called humanity.” Regarding investment into purpose-led business? Alina thinks there is still a lot to be done; that while there is a lot of support for calculating one’s carbon footprint and offset options, there is a lot less focus on innovation.”

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About Amber

Amber Riedl is CMO at Tomorrow's Education. She is motivated by great content, loves building communities and lives on purpose.