Last week I attended a stimulating event at the RSA on Does Purpose Pay? hosted by Philippa White, the founder of The International Exchange. Three speakers made their case for the importance of Purpose, Paul Twivy very authoritatively,  Jim Carroll very eloquently from a personal perspective and Charlie Dawson expansively, although none really answered the event question on whether Purpose creates value.

Each of them gave their definition of what Purpose was, which highlighted a fundamental problem; each had a different interpretation of the term Purpose; it was an internal philosophy guiding the behaviour of staff, it was for personal orientation or corporate orientation, it was an external expression acting like a lighthouse for customers, the reason the business exists, the space in which the brand operates, the good a company can do through its assets, it wasn’t CSR, it includes elements of CSR and it’s a framework for the governance of a business. All are valid and some legitimately combine, but it was worrying for three sector experts to have such wide ranging and expansive definitions.

It may be the word purpose that is the problem; one speaker used the terms Purpose, Brand Purpose and Social Purpose interchangeable to mean the same this in one sentence. They don’t.

To add to the confusion there were differing views over whether every company or brand should have purpose or only those that have a clear ‘social good’ in their DNA can claim to have Purpose.

It is not helped by the industry leaders, WARC have come up with their definition of Purpose, the IPA another.

It is no wonder that clients are confused about the role and value of purpose if the sector that prides itself on erudite and succinct communication can’t agree on a single definition.

Having worked in the area of Social Purpose for over 20 years we are very clear what an authentic Social Purpose is and the limits to how it can be applied. And as you would expect for an agency working with businesses every day to define and create value from their Social Purpose, we have our own definition.

We need to come together as a sector to agree a definition and stick by it for the sake of our clients, but also to make sure we don’t undermine the truly transformational value that can be created from Purpose.

The one clear thing that came out of the evening was that The International Exchange is a excellent model for employee engagement creating value for the individual that takes part, the community they work with and the business that allows their employee to participate. The triple win that reflects a valuable purpose for all involved.