Monash Warwick Alliance research explores the potential for purpose-driven businesses to unite to tackle global challenges

Across the world we are witnessing the emergence of a range of private-sector networks, organisations and initiatives designed to transform companies’ underlying business models and management practices. Many directly aim to address the global challenges we face, as identified by the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and all seek to tackle wider social and/or environmental issues and concerns through the capacity of business.

These purpose-driven businesses are integrating social and environmental objectives into their organisational purpose, rather than only focusing on financial objectives. Many are part of a ‘purpose ecosystem’, an emerging industry of sustainability enablers and facilitators that help businesses to adopt sustainable business models or embed sustainability in their business strategies and practices.

Funded by the Monash Warwick Alliance, Associate Professor Stubbs and Associate Professor Dahlmann, conducted in-depth interviews with 12 Australian organisations and 6 based in the UK and concluded that the purpose ecosystem could play a vital role in helping address sustainability challenges and support the achievement of the UN SDGs. Associate Professor Dahlmann said;

“This exploratory pilot research has provided first evidence of an emerging purpose ecosystem, characterised by a multitude of diverse private sector actors with different backgrounds, theories of change and philosophies. Individuals and organisations themselves are only beginning to realise and acknowledge their existence as part of a wider purpose ecosystem – a process which could fundamentally increase collaboration and alignment of efforts.”

The researchers recognise that for the purpose ecosystem to reach its full potential, a number of barriers and challenges need to be addressed through critical evaluation, greater collaboration and information sharing, as Associate Professor Stubbs explains;

“Based on our preliminary insights we are able to provide several recommendations, including more rigorous mapping of members in this purpose ecosystem to establish a better understanding of the different actors and their respective efforts. We’d like to see the creation of a community of practice or some other neutral forum where approaches and ideas can be discussed and coordinated. Further, we call for further research to identify and evaluate the different theories of change implemented to strengthen the evidence base for impact. We also recommend the development of a platform that bundles and advertises different funding sources and opportunities for actors within this purpose ecosystem.

Finally, we’d like to invite practitioners and academics to provide us with feedback on these findings and join us in better understanding and supporting the evolution of the purpose ecosystem.

Read the summary of findings here: Purpose Ecosystems and Earth System Governance - Summary of Findings (December 5, 2019)