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Purpose Creates Value. Why Your Why Really Matters



Yesterday evening, I attended a gathering of the Oregon Entrepreneurs Network. The event, referred to as a PubTalk™, featured a presentation by Benjamin Bohannon, co-founder of Sseko Designs and Ian Lombard, Managing Director of Skyline Capital Partners, a venture capital firm and early investor in Sseko. You may have heard of Sseko Design. They were featured on Shark Tank in February, 2015 and have received considerable media attention, largely because of the company’s compelling mission.

Sseko makes shoes, sandals and handbags at facilities in Uganda using responsibly sourced material from providers in East Africa. What sets Sseko apart is a business model designed from the ground up to serve a social cause. They employ high potential women who would ordinarily never get the chance to realize their potential and use company revenues to fund their college educations.

Sounds like a great model for a nonprofit, right? Well this is a serious business with real world expectations for delivering a return to its shareholders. Ian praised Sseko not just because of its noble mission, but because of the soundness of the business. This is a for-profit enterprise with big ambitions whose social agenda is integral to its value proposition. To paraphrase Benjamin, in the 21st century, purpose creates value.

This concept – Purpose Creates Value – resonated deeply with me and as far as I could tell, everyone else in the room. In a world where we’re smothered with noise and seemingly limitless access to more stuff, what stands out for us as humans and consumers is purpose – a sense that the choices we make can and should make the world a better place. 

The truth of this concept is reinforced by research conducted by MIT for the Federal Reserve wherein Purpose is observed to be a more potent motivator than money in tasks requiring anything more than rudimentary cognitive skills. The study’s focus was on workplace compensation and motivation, but I believe the power of purpose as described in the research is equally applicable to our motives when we shop, donate or volunteer. 

I’ve been writing lately about companies that I describe as Generous Enterprises. These are companies of purpose. The profit motive is still present. But transcending that motive is an abiding desire to make life better for their employees and their customers. For Sseko’s investors and customers, the opportunity to support a valuable social cause while getting a great pair of shoes makes Sseko a better, more valuable choice.

Last week, I had the privilege of working with a group of business people in the wealth management industry who are merging their businesses into a single entity. I was introduced to the group by one of its members, a former colleague whose startup I helped support, to guide them in the process of transforming their four brands into one.

I love this kind of work, because I get to explore all that’s best about a business. Why they do it; the obstacles they’ve overcome; the values and principles that animate them; how what they do affects the people they serve.

The group talked at length about their clients. They shared stories about their clients’ experiences with the firm. We talked about clients’ fears and aspirations and the deep sense of responsibility each member of the group felt toward the people he served.

This was a particularly rewarding experience for me because this group gets it. It’s not just that they understand how important it is for their new business to have a cohesive brand narrative. They view their lives, careers and company as serving a higher purpose. And part of that higher purpose is to liberate their clients to pursue lives of purpose too.

I love that!

Imagine the kind of experience a company with a motive like this delivers to its clients. This is big, it penetrates every aspect of the organization, and it’s real. This simple statement sets the stage for how these professionals will operate their business, communicate with their clients, engage with their community and plan for growth and sustainability.

I have written at length about the importance of viewing marketing though a wide-angle lens. It’s much, much bigger than ads or logos or slogans. It’s about who you are, what you stand for and the difference you want to make in the world. Companies like Sseko Design and the firm I am working with get that. Their stories attract attention and fire the imagination because they’re bigger than mere products and services. Indeed, as Benjamin Bohannon of Sseko Designs asserts, in the 21st century purpose creates value.

Are there companies you admire because of their social activism? How does their social agenda affect you as a consumer? Do you agree with me that companies with a purpose are better positioned for success in today’s marketplace?


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