The purpose economy revisited

Published on November 30, 2020   19 min

Other Talks in the Series: The Purpose Economy

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My name is Egbert Dommerholt. I'm Professor Bio-based Business Valorization at the Hanze University of Applied Sciences, Groningen, in the Netherlands. The research of my professorship focuses on the impact of the circular and bio-based economy on business, and businesses, and society, and vice versa. The title of my presentation is The Purpose Economy Revisited.
Today, a multitude of constructs and concepts articulating the business-society relationship exist. Some of which, like corporate social performance, corporate sustainability, and creating shared value have become pretty mainstream in the meanwhile. On top of these, there are many more like corporate citizenship, corporate social responsiveness, etc. A major concern of these concepts is that most of them are quite ambiguously defined, causing quite some confusion as to their true meaning. So how to interpret these concepts and constructs, if these have come to mean all things to all people. The business society concept that has been making quite an upsurge in recent years is that of the purpose economy, introduced and proliferated by Aaron Hurst. In his view, purpose-driven companies are not just focused on profit or financial interests, but on a combination of financial, social, and personal value. But is also an ambiguous concept. Because it's interpretation very much hinges on the term purpose. What exactly do we mean by purpose?
The Cambridge dictionary teaches us that the term purpose can be interpreted in many ways. Just to mention a few definitions: Why you do something, or why something exists? Or a determination, or a feeling of having a reason for what you do. An intention or aim; a reason for doing something or for allowing something to happen. Hurst defines the term as follows: The reason for which something is done or created, or for which something exists. This comes very close to the first definition from the Cambridge dictionary. But how helpful is this definition if we want to get a good understanding of what the purpose economy entails. One might even wonder if the purpose economy exists at all, or that we need to be cautious using this concept. Because just like many contemporary business society concepts, it may end up as a buzzword or buzz concept devoid of a clear meaning.