Five Ways Companies Embed Purpose into their Business

By Jennifer Bishop, Private Sector Partnerships Manager VSO International & Business Fights Poverty Ambassador

‘Nothing is greater than business governed by conscience.’ Lord Lever. This article explores five ways that companies can move beyond purpose washing to embed purpose and conscience into their strategy and operations impactfully and sustainably.  Case studies shared by five companies illustrate the five steps: Define, Do, Live, Say and Partner.

Zahid Torres-Rahman, CEO and co-founder of Business Fights Poverty, opened the event stating: ‘Purpose is not CSR …confined to the sustainability department. It is this all pervasive force that can drive, and inspire and align how businesses operate and what they do.’

But how exactly do companies embed purpose into their business strategy and operations? Andrew Hunt, co-founder and CEO of Aduna shared in the closing plenary how a crisis of purpose led him to volunteer for a project in The Gambia where he was inspired by what could be made possible when underserved farmers could access a viable market. The business is now helping to provide sustainable livelihoods to more than 1,000 women in Northern Ghana by exporting baobab and moringa to western health food markets globally. Startups like Aduna can do so by maximising a new market opportunity, but what about global multinationals? How do established businesses go beyond lip service and purpose-washing?  The Business Fights Poverty one day summit in Oxford, a convening of 300 people from business, academia, and NGO sectors asked exactly this question.

Taking part in the Purpose Zone at BFPOxford as an Ambassador, here I share a summary of 5 ways Business Fights Poverty Oxford 2019 identified that companies can embed purpose into their businesses.


Dana Georgakarakou, Europe Regional Lead for Social Impact at Visa, challenged attendees and businesses to start with defining the business, a process which importantly entails defining who and what you are NOT. For a company like Visa, this entailed a deep analysis of their market, their product, their brand identity and led to question gaps identified. They asked, ‘What if EVERYONE had the opportunity to connect to financial services?’ This launched a quest to explore the barriers to financial inclusion faced by underserved markets including infrastructure, geography, processes, gender, laws and so on. Visa, Gap and TechnoServe partnered to connect women farmers with agronomy and business skills and to support micro and small businesses to grow, effectively supporting families and communities globally.

2. DO

Hannah Green, Director of Corporate Responsibility at GSK, challenged attendees and businesses to embed purpose into conversations at the C-Suite board level and executive level of a company. This purpose is then to be embedded into the business strategy which is operationalised through the allocation of capital, talent, and resource. GSK refused to have a CSR strategy and report separate to the company strategy and report. This move placed impact projects for the company into the core business and required the allocation of the resources of the core business. For example, GSK’s malaria vaccine is a key business product for GSK and not a CSR project.


Will Gardner, consultant and B-Leader, challenged attendees and businesses to truly embed purpose into business operations by engaging all staff and individuals within the business supply chain with the business impacts. ‘This is not about doing ‘good’, but about doing good business,’ he declared. This requires a great deal of transparency on behalf of the business to understand and report on the sustainability of operations, exposing the impact of the business on its people, and the communities within which it operates. By thinking long term, a company can co-create purpose through its people, tapping into the extrinsic and intrinsic motivations of its staff. Citing Patagonia, Ikea, Danone, and Innocent as brands who truly consider the impact of their company operations and have engaged and loyal staff who care about the company they work for. 

4. SAY

Pilar Pedrinelli, Global Purpose and Sustainability Manager at Unilever, challenged attendees and businesses to consider how they are telling the story of their purpose led brands. Ethical and purpose led brands are proven to do better within the consumer market and finding creative ways to engage the public via social media and digital platforms is key. Unilever purpose brand Wall’s Ice-Cream partnered with Symrise and Save the Children, to identify the stories of individual vanilla farmers in MadagascarThe story of each farmer can be read via a QR code scanned from each ice-cream wrapper. Purpose brands such as this, which tell their story well, drive awareness for the issue they are addressing – in this case empowering farmers in Unilever’s supply chain – as well as drive consumer engagement and boost market share, creating a win-win for business and for the community. 


Vittorio Ceruli, Challenge Director for Business Fights Poverty encouraged attendees and companies to consider SDG #17 critical to embedding purpose into their businesses. Partnerships such as Visa with Technoserve and Unilever with Save the Children have achieved community impact through meaningful collaboration. An event platform like Business Fights Poverty is designed to bring diverse people together to consider collaborations, solutions, innovations, and ideas and to inspire the creative problem solving necessary to address many of the complex challenges of poverty globally. 

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