Building a business with purpose

This guest post comes from Hannah Dimsdale, an Edinburgh Graduate working for Power of Youth. Hannah started working with them through our Employ.ed in an SME internship programme, which lead to a permanent position.

The idea of working for a company with a ‘purpose’ seems to be quite intangible. Surely every company has a purpose, otherwise it would not be in existence. Finding out what the real ‘purpose’ of a company is where it gets interesting.

Simon Caulkin recently discussed this in an article he wrote for The Financial Times:

‘one of the paradoxes of business is that the most profitable companies are not those that are most profit-focused.’

Caulkin discusses what seems to be the ultimate contradiction: businesses that have a meaningful and clear purpose that take the focus away from the personal and fiscal nature of business, and align people to a common goal, makes teams ultimately more efficient.

Having a clear mission in a business provides employees with clearer path to follow by making the issues less personal, and more about how we can solve the world’s problems together. Without a clear mission, it is hard for an employee to fully engage with the work at hand, as it becomes more about internal tussles than the ‘bigger picture.’

Isn’t building a business hard enough without supercilious notions of changing the world too? In the wake of the financial crash, our society is demanding more answers from businesses. The recession, among other factors, was caused by short sightedness and greed from big businesses and in the age of social media, gone are the days that businesses can simply continue without scrutiny. People are looking for answers and demanding transparency. Building businesses with a purpose and a clear mission is therefore becoming a necessity rather than a choice.

At Power of Youth, our mission is to live in a world where every entrepreneur is driven by purpose greater than profit, every business is a force for good and everyone has the opportunity to contribute towards the uplifting of society, so that together we can build a better world through business. In an ideal world, we would work ourselves out of a job, but today, every event we run or growth programme we start is connected to this purpose. Having a clear purpose allows a certain freedom that businesses pertained with purely financial gains does not allow. We are given permission to solve problems in creative ways and design events and programmes which have never existed before, as they tie into what we believe.

Types of businesses that are adopting more creative ways of running a business would be described by Frederic Laloux in Reinventing Organisations as ‘Evolutionary-Teal Organisations.’ Characteristics of Evolutionary-Teal Organisations are:

  •  Self-organisation: built on peer relationships rather than hierarchy.
  • Wholeness: permission to arrive at work with you ‘whole’ self rather than just your ‘professional’ self.
  • Evolutionary purpose: members of the organisation are invited to listen, understand and contribute to what purpose a business wants to serve.

We are doing our best to adhere to these characteristics and make them part of our company culture, but as the word ‘Evolutionary’ suggests, there is never a set way to do this, meaning that we are growing together and learning on the job.

We have, however sought to become part of a community of organisations who are adopting similar business practices, to confirm that we are not in this alone. B Corporation is a powerful force bringing together business leaders and employees alike and quantifying these ‘good business practices’ in a series of rigorous questions to qualify as a certified ‘B Corp’. This process truly questions the essence of the business and demands high quality work and accountability.

‘Doing good’ in business therefore ought not be mistaken for taking the soft option. Aligning purpose and profit is nuanced and complex, but achieving this healthy alliance offers a reward like no other.


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