The Purpose Driven Corporatist

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Corporations are huge and they dominate our business landscape.  Of the 100 largest economies in the world, 51 are corporations and only 49 are countries.

Corporate critics like Douglas Rushkoff would add that not only is our world dominated by corporations, but as individuals, we have all internalized the worst corporate values, becoming disconnected, profit-driven and absolutely “me” focused in everything we do.

That’s a pretty bleak picture.  After reading Rushkoff’s book (and even writing a long review about it) I thought about the legions of people (like me) working in companies.  Sure, there are a lot of narcissistic corporate drone types that fit the description above…but there are also a lot of other folks willing to shake things up.  Lets call them purpose driven corporatists.

Hybrid Individuals:  So what is a purpose driven corporatist?  John Elkington talks about a new breed of employee emerging from within Multinational corporations.  These “hybrid people” are increasingly motivated by creating products that add value both to society and to the bottom line. They persistently champion a vision of change in the face of frequent cynicism and resistance.  They have emerged as a result of a series of shifts in the landscape (e.g. global market failures & increased societal expectations on business).  Many of these people have experienced a shift in their personal motivation as a result of a life changing experience. Others have had an “aha!” moment after visiting a poverty stricken country or war-torn region.  Still others have less dramatic mindset shifts and just want to make a difference after suddenly realizing there is more to life than just making the next dollar/euro/yen.

A couple of examples: Vodaphone’s Nick Hughes & Susie Lonie along with P&G’s Win Sakdinan are examples of purpose driven corporatists profiled in SustainAbility’s Social Entrepreneurship guide.  Nick and Susie have developed mobile payment options for Kenyan and Afghani customers.  Win was one of the pioneer’s behind P&G’s future friendly initiative, educating consumers to save energy, water & packaging via brand choices.  You’ll find more inspiring examples of internal corporate change agents in the SustainAbility guide…click the link above & check it out.

Entirely Reasonable People?: As The Economist put it…the greatest agents for sustainable change are likely to be entirely reasonable people, often working for large companies, who see ways to create better products or reach new markets, and have the resources to do so.  That’s true, but entirely reasonable people will need unusually open minded leadership at the top if they are to succeed and build any scale with their initiatives.  And, start-up heroes like Grameen Bank founder Mohammad Yunus along with other social entrepreneurs may take issue with The Economist’s assessment.  In the end of course, intrapreneurs, entrepreneurs, and all types in between will be needed to create world class products and services that add value to both society & the bottom line.

What are your thoughts here?  How far do you think mid-level social/enviro intrapreneurs can really drive corporate change?


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