Can purpose guide business through COVID-19 and beyond?

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In response to COVID-19, leaders have been taking decisions at a scale and pace unimaginable at the beginning of the year. In July 2020, Business in the Community (BITC) brought together business leaders for a webinar to discuss the role of purpose in guiding decisions in times of COVID-19 and what this might mean in building back better. Here we share the top insights from the session. You can access the full recording of the Building Back Better – with purpose webinar here.

Huge thanks to our panellists: Saker Nusseibeh CBE, Chief Executive Officer, Federated Hermes; Phil Thomson, President, Global Affairs, GSK; Wendy Warham, VP Digital Transformation and Innovation, Fujitsu; Keith Chanter, Chief Executive, EMCOR UK; and Amanda Mackenzie, Chief Executive, Business in the Community (BITC).

Top insights from the session

  1. Anchoring employees to a solid purpose has allowed them to stay motivated and resilient, and therefore keep operations running. Companies are seeing record levels of employee engagement, showing that, when leveraged in the right way, purpose is a force for good within a company.
  2. Health resilience needs to be core to how the world builds back better from COVID-19. Since 2000 there have been seven close calls with pandemics. Key actors need to treat health resilience with the same sense of urgency as climate change by focusing on collaboration and scalable solutions, and investing in preventative measures.
  3. We need to invest in global and multilateral institutions, such as the United Nations and the World Health Organization, to strengthen international cooperation and leadership – this is vital given the economic damage that a lack of health resilience has caused.
  4. During COVID-19, citizens’ voices have become louder. Historically, their voice was only heard through their vote, and more recently through how they choose to invest their money. But increasingly citizens are giving voice to what they deem important, for example Clap for the NHS and carers, providing care for old and vulnerable people and expecting politicians to behave the same as everyone else.
  5. People are not only holding each other to account, but the expectation of their employers and business in general has also accelerated following COVID-19. If businesses do not have a purpose, and one that they stick to, they will lose their license to operate.
  6. Not only are citizens making their values heard, but leaders have found their ears. COVID-19 is strengthening leaders’ ability to listen to and interact with their employees and wider society. Leaders need to amplify that volume and move it forward.
  7. COVID-19 has taught us that companies need to think about sustainability across stakeholder relationships: employees (as a company is made of a collection of people), clients (to make sure they are willing to come back) and society as a whole (the community a business operates in will judge its behaviour).

This session was part of BITC’s response to the global call to build back better, putting responsible business at the heart of the recovery.

About #BuildBackResponsibly

Build Back Responsibly is BITC’s campaign for businesses to seize the opportunity and #BuildBackResponsibly after COVID-19. We set out new priorities for how business can deliver the change that is needed for society and the planet. Work with us and make a difference.

Find out more about #BuildBackResponsibly.