New report emphasises role for purpose-driven businesses

A new report indicates that people around the world believe purpose-driven business can act as a positive force for change in society and are anxious for business to fulfil that role.

The latest Edelman Trust Barometer has, as usual, a stack of interesting responses regarding levels of trust in the institutions of government, the media, business and NGOs. For business owners, grappling with whether to adopt a purpose-driven approach, the consumers have a particularly strong message.

The report is the largest consumer poll in the world covering trust in institutions. Researchers surveyed 34,000 people in 28 countries. Overall, the report reveals a continued concern about ‘the system’. Nearly half believe the system is failing them and only 18% of those polled felt the system is working for them.

The traditional elites continue to be mistrusted with just 42% trusting their leaders to successfully address each country’s challenges. This figure declines to 38% for the very wealthy, indicating either that populist politicians have been remarkably effective of that they are tapping a genuine underlying concern.

The message for business

The research indicates that people want business to be the catalyst for change.

Well over half those questioned (56%) believe that capitalism in its current form does more harm than good. However, there is an appetite for CEO activism. Nearly three quarters believe CEOs should take the lead on change rather waiting for governments to impose it and a similar number say that a company can take action to increase profits and improve conditions in the communities in which it operates.

Purpose and ethics are vital differentiators. In terms of the amount of trust people place in companies, ethics was viewed as three times as important as competence. Competence, quality and service are not enough on their own to build trust. The ethical dimension is key and, in this research, ethics comprises integrity, purpose and dependability.

Companies which are purpose-driven have a head start already. And those which seem to lag behind are increasingly scrutinised. Recent criticism of Coca Cola for its statements on single-use plastics provide just one example of this phenomenon.

In summary, the report provides a strong endorsement of those businesses which are prepared to make a stand of issues faced by consumers around the world. Business trust is not universal but it is growing; 12% more people trust business because they view it as purpose-driven than distrust it for lack of purpose. The gap between those who trust or do not trust that business has a vision for the future they believe in is smaller but still 5 points in favour of business.

Perhaps people are prepared to give business owners, shareholders and CEOs a chance to realign company interests with those of society at large? Now it’s up to business leaders to make the most of that opportunity. If you want to take that opportunity, talk to us.

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