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The Social Ripple Effect:
The Reach of Business Decisions in the Time of COVID-19

Organizations will be defined by the decisions they make during the pandemic. Now, companies with a social purpose — or those which aspire to have one — have a tool that can inform their day-to-day decisions in ways that build and sustain a better society.

A ripple effect is a situation in which, like ripples expanding across the water when an object is dropped into it, an effect from an initial state can be followed outwards. The global COVID-19 pandemic has had the effect of dropping a very large object into the world’s ‘water,’ causing social purpose-driven organizations to step up to the challenge of pivoting their business models to play their role.

More than ever, leaders have been called upon to make immediate and profound decisions with far-reaching consequences — and with the potential to accelerate and ripple their social impact into their communities and beyond.

We at the Social Purpose Institute have been tracking the nature of purpose-driven decisions during this turbulent period. Do you see what we see? Businesses with a social purpose are using it as a lens for decision-making. Here are a few CEOs on purpose during COVID:

“When the s— hits the fan — whether it is COVID or social injustice — we look to our purpose to figure out what to do. Our purpose is to create world-changing technologies that enrich the lives of every person on earth. That simple line helps us define fairly quickly what to do.” Bob Swan, CEO, Intel

Hear 75 insights from 25 purpose-driven brand leaders ...

Not sure where, or whether, to start on your company's social purpose? After learning from dozens who have done it, you'll understand how defining a clear social purpose can benefit organizations of all sizes and shapes, in any industry.

"We are doubling down on our Purpose to foster a world where nothing is waste — it is even more relevant now than ever before." Allen Langdon, CEO, Return-It

“Our purpose, to transform communities by connecting people with places, guides us in how best to respond to the challenges of our time, including the pandemic and more recently the reminder of the dire impact of systemic racism in society. Our purpose helps us know where to focus and what to do.” Patrick Nangle, CEO, Modo Co-operative

When I was commissioned by Corporate Knights to write an article on social purpose in the time of COVID, I found that purpose-driven companies were front-line champions of a humanitarian society. Research for the article generated guidelines for developing the COVID social response, showing even more profoundly the changes companies embrace as they explore their own humanity.

So when Kelly Hodgins, program officer of the McConnell Family Foundation, approached me to develop a COVID-19 social impact decision-making tool for purpose-driven organizations, I leapt at the opportunity.

Now, companies with a social purpose — or those which aspire to have one — have a tool they can use to inform their day-to-day decisions in ways that build and sustain a better society, much like the CEOs are doing at the companies mentioned above.

The tool starts by challenging companies to determine their ambition levels: Do they seek to improve or, more impactfully, transform societal conditions? Next, it provokes companies to think strategically about their direction, with questions such as: What will future generations expect from us? What greater role can we play in the world? Then, it introduces different narratives such as society transformation, climate emergency, technology purpose and others. Finally, it lays out ways a company can use these catalytic questions as a tool for emergency planning, project acceleration, conversation starters, strategic planning and more.

If you and your organization want to elevate your decisions during this historic period, this is a tool to use now.

We are all hearing that companies and organizations will be defined by the decisions they make during COVID-19. So, take charge of your brand and your narrative. Use this tool, expand your horizons, and create those purpose-driven ripples to realize a better world.


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