Creating common purpose: How do we move the dial?

Colm Kelly Global Corporate Sustainability Leader, PwC Ireland (Republic of)

About twelve months ago, we published a paper highlighting the choices that we believe lie before us to help make sure economies – and individual businesses operating within them – deliver more effectively for society.

A year on, we continue to see symptoms of our system under strain and the challenge before us is no less acute. It’s a topic at the heart of the discussions this month in Berlin at the Global Solutions Summit.

At the heart of these choices is the need for a common purpose. But what does this mean in practice? And what are the implications for ‘re-wiring’ the current system to enable us to transition to a new one, that supports greater alignment between business, economies and society?

We’ve said previously that we believe it’s important to define societal goals, and the link between macro-level outcomes and micro-level behaviours. These are defined by elements such as regulation, incentives, investment objectives, governmental and corporate reporting, and so on.

Delivering on this simple principle is complex in practice. There are multiple elements which need input from multiple stakeholders - governments, businesses, civil society, academics and researchers, regulators, politicians and more.

How can we define these broader societal objectives? And then what measures should we use to report on these - for individual businesses as well as economies as a whole?

Which specific elements and incentives need to change to encourage alignment around the broader objectives? How can market economies be better used to address human needs and opportunities, balancing both short term financial performance with longer term and broader objectives? How do we balance both global and local needs - and differences? What role can technology play - and how can we ensure it is a positive one? These are complex questions - and critically important ones.

There are two things which are clear. First, each of these questions, and all of the related ones which follow, will need debate, research and input from a range of contributors - business must play a part along with governments, academics, think tanks, civil society and others. No single constituency can address these kinds of issue in isolation.

Second, the most significant factor is a willingness to work to address these kinds of challenges with the objective of bringing our businesses, economies and societies back into alignment - working together with an overarching common purpose.

This requires challenging many long-held assumptions which have powered our economies - and our businesses - so successfully for so long. It therefore also requires a reimagining of many of our current approaches - so that we can identify and adopt the changes and strategies necessary to support this common purpose.

A successful economy needs a healthy, sustainable and successful society, just as a successful society needs a healthy sustainable and successful economy. Working to achieve this common purpose is the means to deliver on both.

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Bethan Grillo

Bethan Grillo

Managing Director, Global Corporate Sustainability, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0) 20 7804 5746

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