Should every business be a social purpose business?

Have you heard of the corporate conscience program? It's how private businesses incorporate an element of humanity in their customer-facing activities.
14 June 2018

The Spring 2018 technology conference season already seems a distant memory.

One keynote followed another. CEOs and CTOs reminded us that digital transformation is everywhere, that Uber has no cars and that Amazon has no bookstores – repeatedly.

In a world where so many technology vendors are sounding uncomfortably similar, how can they portray some element of personality and human purpose?

With many technologists and businesspeople attending a handful of different vendor events, how can any one company show that they really care?

Corporate Social Responsibility

The answer for a many is some form of corporate conscience program or initiative.

Sometimes also called corporate citizenship or responsible business, private businesses have taken it upon themselves to make sure they include an element of humanity in their customer-facing activities.

Famed British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson spoke at an event last year in London to say (and apologies for paraphrasing sir), “I think in this day and age, it is very sad if any business operates without some higher level of purpose for the wellbeing of the planet.”

At which point Sir Richard cut off one attendee’s necktie as part of his customary plea that we should all dress down and love each other a little bit more.

Breakfast burrito

Apologies for the first person explanation here, but this is a human issue and it’s hard to convey it any other way. It was at identity management company Okta’s Oktane 2018 that I was personally given a first-hand experience of social purpose.

Sneaking a breakfast burrito hot sandwich wrap (not America’s finest contribution to world cuisine) at around 7 am one morning I thought I was safe to drink coffee and eat in peace on a quiet side table in the event hall.

“Oh, if you’re going to rest your breakfast there, then you’ll need to tie a ribbon on our Okta For Good ‘heart string’ wall and receive a ten dollar gift card for the non-profit organization of your choice,” said the enthusiastic conference staff gentleman, who had clearly been on the high octane (pun intended) coffee for several hours already.

So in the style of an irascible British reporter who needs more sleep, I begrudgingly took a pink string from the selection, tied it onto the network of laces already in place and went back to attempting to squirt Tabasco sauce into my hot breakfast treat.

At which point the gentleman gave me my voucher with its value prepaid for by the host vendor. So I proceeded to look for a charity to donate to using the app on my smartphone.

I dutifully deposited the ten dollars in the giving section of the Guide Dogs of America website (my wife loves dogs, I’m duty bound, plus it’s a good thing to do) – and then I felt strangely good.

Spreading the love

This trend has clearly spread. Other events this year saw people assembling ‘learn electronics kits’ for the African schools.

Cloud CRM company Salesforce has always dedicated a portion of its conference and exhibition show floor to packing food boxes for underprivileged nations.

Salesforce also invests a lot of time in children’s hospitals and projects like its Night Kits for homeless children.

Where tech firms haven’t engaged in corporate philanthropy or giving exercises of some form, then they have often concentrated their efforts on women in technology and all the other aspects of social diversity that most logically minded individuals agree need to be rebalanced.

Database company MongoDB operates a social discussion lounge its events to highlight exactly these issues.

German data analytics firm SAP is aiming to building social impact ventures through its SAP One Billion Lives initiative.

Started in the firm’s Asia Pacific Japan (APJ) region in 2016, SAP One Billion Lives expanded globally this year to help improve the lives of 1 billion people by fostering scalable, viable social businesses.

Ongoing projects in the SAP program include initiatives designed to tackle cancer drug effectiveness in India and improving disaster prevention and preparedness in Japan.

The bottom line for business in 2018 then, is that we all have to think further than the bottom line. Profits are still fundamentally important, obviously.

They help every firm pay its staff, grow and ultimately become capable of taking on social responsibility initiatives. But a higher purpose is now needed and it’s for the good of everybody.

Eat your breakfast burrito with care, because love is all you need, right?