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What is a purpose-led business?

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Business serving more than the financial bottom line

While every business wants to serve the basic function of creating profit to at least sustain itself, the true success of today’s modern businesses are increasingly being measured by something much more meaningful – their purpose and achievement of positive impact.

Purpose-led, or purpose-driven, businesses work hard to balance profit and purpose in a way that allows the business to simultaneously flourish while making a positive impact, most often for the betterment of social and/or environmental concerns.

In this Helping Hands panel discussion, founder and CEO of Pro Purpose, Alana Nicholls; mental health expert and founding board member of R U OK?, Graeme Cowan; and CEO and chief storyteller of the ImpactInstitute, Mark Jones; discuss what a purpose-led business is, how they operate and what they are capable of achieving.

Alana points out that, for a business, identifying purpose is beneficial on many levels. Not only does it help motivate business owners to make healthy business decisions and commitments, but that knowing your business’s purpose inspires employees, engages repeat customers and referral to new ones, and even motivates other businesses to do the same.

“For businesses that have a clear purpose, 73% say it helps clear the path through turmoil in business … When you’re driven by a purpose, key decisions that you’re making in your business will be intentional because you’ll be asking the questions, ‘Is this (decision) serving this purpose – why do we exist?’”

Two in three customers are prepared to pay more from the hip-pocket for the products they buy if they know that the business making and supplying them is purpose-led. But, Mark warns,  businesses and business owners should only expect to capitalise on this if they are prepared to be genuine about having invested in their purpose.

In our modern climate of AI and deep-fakes, people are accustomed to asking, Is this real? Mark says that both staff and customers will see straight through ingenuine purpose-washing.

“With the abundance of information available to people, it becomes increasingly easier to determine which companies are pursuing their purpose and which are missing the mark,” he said.

“The world we live in very quickly figures out whether (a business’s claims are) real or not. You need to have a story for your organisation that is grounded in truth, and speak from that truth, and if you don’t, you’re going to get in trouble really quickly.”

Graeme Cowan shares that, in his experience, the establishment of purpose for any business is more likely to be effective if everyone from CEO to employee to customer has the opportunity to be involved in the implementation. He refers to the collaboration of R U OK? with men’s clothing store, Connor, in finding and implementing its purpose.

“(Connor) started off by surveying their employees, surveying their customers on what they were passionate about, and they identified that it was mental health, and they eventually chose R U OK? … They saw it as an opportunity to make their stores better” he said. “It just built this whole ethos in the community where they were really in the business of improving the capacity to ask, ‘Are you okay?’ through the way they do business.”

Among the many interesting points raised by the panellists on this topic of purpose-led business, they all strongly agree that businesses driven by purpose are rapidly moving to the forefront of the most desirable workplaces to create, be employed by, and for which customers are willing to part with their hard-earned income.

Mark says, “You’ve got to have that really strong purpose – Why do we exist? – Is it to improve the planet? Is it to improve the lives of people and communities? … This is actually a whole way of thinking about leading and running an organisation, it’s not just deciding you’re going to do something good for a change.”


See the WHAT IS A PURPOSE-LED BUSINESS? discussion and the full catalogue of Helping Hands panels at Catch up on full episodes of Helping Hands on 9NOW 

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* Our panellists, Mark, Alana and Graeme, and the Helping Hands producers are available for interview on radio, TV and online to discuss this topic. Get in touch at


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