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The Next Economy
The Social-Purpose Economy Is Coming of Age

The purpose economy is becoming a force in Canada and around the world. Now is the time to help it overcome any growing pains and highlight the purpose gains to put business and humanity on a sustainable path at scale.

The purpose ecosystem is coming of age. You can see this when you start coming across academic research defining it and studying its potential and constraints, when you watch it come to fruition through your or others’ deliberate efforts, or when over 100 CEOs of purpose-driven companies endorse a Call to Purpose.

Academics studying this purpose-ecosystem phenomenon describe it as a self-organizing community of organizations and interdependent stakeholders organically seeking to promote wider system change through a shared intention to enable business to have a purpose beyond profit (Dahlmann et al and Lyon et al).

In Canada, my defining moment was in November 2021 when I co-moderated the United Way BC Social Purpose Institute’s first-ever national dialogue in a summit on social-purpose business. The Propelling Purpose Summit: The Road to the Purposeful Economy brought together the emergent purpose ecosystem and introduced the “purpose economy” narrative to Canada. (We postulated that if a business can have a social purpose, the economy should, too!) The summit named and consulted the social-purpose community on the levers of change that should be mobilized to accelerate the take-up of social purpose in business. The Canadian Social Purpose Ecosystem Map was created to find and connect the purpose ecosystem players.

This groundbreaking event launched the concept of the purpose economy and sowed the seeds for the creation of the Canadian Purpose Economy Project (CPEP). In 2022, CPEP started creating the purpose ecosystem — supporting social-purpose businesses to start, transition, thrive and grow towards its vision that all Canadian businesses have a social purpose as their reason to exist; that they are implementing their purpose authentically, and they are collaborating with others to achieve it.

Enter the federal government: which commissioned a purpose-economy actor, MaRS Discovery District, to collaborate with CPEP to identify and engage ecosystem players to develop a pathway to accelerate and scale social-purpose business in Canada.

The resulting report, Mobilizing the Canadian Social-Purpose Ecosystem, revealed a theory of change arising from nearly 70 interviews with Canadian influencers and business leaders that demonstrates how social-purpose engagement of the ecosystem actors can:

  • Increase the number of businesses adopting, implementing, and collaborating on social purpose

  • Foster more authentic and trusted social purpose companies

  • Realize a more just and fair purpose economy.

It identified 10 levers for activation to mobilize the Canadian Purpose Economy Ecosystem, so that social-purpose business becomes mainstream in business, as set out in the image below.

Image credit: Coro Strandberg

CPEP is working on these levers of change, with first-year results summarized in this Social Purpose in Canada Status Report 2023.

And key to the mobilization of any purpose economy is businesses adopting a social purpose as their reason to exist, and embedding that purpose into everything they do. Businesses need resources and guides to help them with this task, and for that they can turn to the Social Purpose Practices Kit (outlined below) — which provides 40 practical examples of 15 companies implementing their social purpose across their operations and into the employee and customer experience as they plan, embed and engage.

Yes, the purpose economy is coming of age in Canada and around the world. Now is the time to help it overcome any growing pains and highlight the purpose gains to put business and humanity on a sustainable path at scale.

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