2021 demands a return to purpose for Vancouver businesses!

Opinion: The days of succeeding by just focusing on the bottom line are over. Consumers, employees, and shareholders alike are demanding more. Indeed, even our environment is asking us to make changes.

Like a spool of thread, 2020 undid many things. It unwound so many of our old and outdated narratives. In many ways, it opened our awareness to fissures in our society.

This year has caused me to reflect deeply on my life — the things I’m grateful for, the activities where I dedicate my time and energy, and most prominently, the reason I wake up every morning. That is, my purpose. Who I am and what I stand for.

My strong assumption is that I am not alone in this reflection. I believe that many of us have begun to question whether we were striking the right balance between work and family, giving and receiving, profit and impact. This reflection is absolutely necessary in Vancouver’s business community.

After this year of immense change, challenge, and crisis, when everything we took for granted was turned upside down, Vancouver business leaders ought to be thinking long and hard about who they are and why they exist.

From wildfires to rail blockades, Black Lives Matter to the pandemic, the vulnerabilities and ills of our society have been on full, messy display. Let’s say goodbye to old narratives. It’s time for organizations to be of real service and define a genuine purpose.

Too often when I meet with Vancouver CEOs, their sole aim is to make more money. Purpose is not merely increasing profit for owners and dividends for shareholders. Purpose is solving real human problems and ensuring the tangible value we create outweighs the damage we are causing to people or the environment.

Take the Vancity Community Investment Bank as an example. It is the only Canadian bank whose sole focus is financing organizations that drive social, economic, and environmental change.

They invest in co-working space for local artists, renewable energy projects, affordable housing developments — all businesses that make our communities a more sustainable and equitable place to live while still facilitating and rewarding innovative entrepreneurship with traditional capital.

Their tagline could not be clearer: “Can the pursuit of profit also deliver positive impact for communities and the planet they inhabit? We say yes.”

The Vancity Community Investment Bank should serve as a model for all businesses with a vision to exist in the long term. Our communities are increasingly demanding a more equitable society. A groundbreaking cross-Canada survey from the Canadian Centre for the Purpose of the Corporation recently demonstrated that issues of fairness and sustainability are by far the top two concerns of Canadians.

A full 84 per cent of respondents think businesses should focus on stakeholders, not just shareholders. Most strikingly, 65 per cent agree that government should force businesses to follow stakeholder definitions if they are unwilling to change themselves. The message to the business community is unambiguous: change or be changed.

Over the years, I have worked with hundreds of CEOs in organizations across Canada to help them awaken their heads and hearts by amplifying a renewed human spirit.

Once CEOs can establish one single concept, their ancillary activities fall into place. They need to know their personal reason for being and their true organizational “Why.”

Fill in the blanks: “I am ___ in service or commitment to ___.”

By constantly bringing our purpose statement to the forefront of our mind, we feed our brain with good chemicals that offer energy, clarity, and direction.

Now, more than ever, we need bold leaders in the business community who are willing to take a stand for issues they believe in, including those outside their core business operations.

The days of succeeding by just focusing on the bottom line are over. Consumers, employees, and shareholders alike are demanding more. Indeed, even our environment is asking us to make changes.

As we continue to face a world that is becoming less sustainable, less fair, and less just, I invite all readers — CEOs and frontline workers alike — to think about your “I am” statement.

We need to lead, or we will be led by our external circumstances. Why do you wake up every morning and what impact will you leave on the community in which you exist? By answering this one question, your life instantly becomes more meaningful and inspiring.

Catherine Bell is the founder of The Awakened Company and an expert panelist at the Canadian Centre for the Purpose of the Corporation.