Every six months my dad, with acerbic Iranian wit, asks me what I actually do for work.
For over a decade I have plied my trade in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). My job, I explain, is to help companies do the right thing by our planet and for society.
"Is it working?" he asks. The picture isn’t comforting.
Since 1990 we’ve pumped more than double the amount of CO2 into the atmosphere. Less than half (45 per cent) of CEOs think sustainability is important to their businesses.
Despite a global march towards equality, fewer than one in ten Fortune 500 CEOs are women.
There are 50 million more "extremely poor" men, women and children in Africa since 1990. And, unforgivably, there are more than 40 million people in "modern" slavery across the world.
The world is still ill. And CSR is the placebo we’re taking to feel better about it.
It’s not fair to say people of my dad’s age haven’t had a fair crack at making the world better. But a new generation is taking hold.
By 2025, millennials will make up 75 per cent of the world’s working population. And millennials are angry. We won’t have pensions, won’t have houses and will earn less than those before us.
The ambitious social and environmental change our parents’ generation promised hasn’t fully materialised.
The difference is, we’re committed to doing something about it. The millennial manifesto is a very different one to that of our parent’s generation.
Millennials will take a pay cut to work at a purposeful company. We view positive social change as a life goal, and prefer to buy brands from companies with a purpose beyond products.
To survive and thrive in the age of millennial employees, consumers and investors, profit without purpose just won’t cut it. It’s no longer enough to just sell. You have to sell your 'why'.
And this is at the heart of purpose.
It’s where the ‘what’s good for us’ and the ‘what’s good for business’ align much more closely.
A purposeful business doesn’t just ask itself about what it does with the money it makes. It asks itself how it makes its money creates positive value, rather than just shareholder dividend.
And the business case for purposeful companies? It’s simple, for millennials at least.
It builds your brand, and it keeps the best employees. Just ask the CEO of Nike what standing up to police and Presidential racism with that Colin Kaepernick ad has done for sales to younger Nike fans.
Get your employees engaged in articulating your purpose. Not just the pricey consultants in expensive suits.
Engaged employees will be the vanguard of selling your company’s why – not just its what.
Which begs the big question: when the world is changing, business changing, consumer expectations of companies changing, how should PR change?
What is the why to our what?
If we can figure out our why, the momentum of the millennial generation might just bring about the change that our ill world needs.
Paul Afshar is partner and head of purposeful business at FleishmanHillard Fishburn
Thumbnail image ©ThinkstockPhotos