Take 25 or 30 of the smartest people you know and bring them together for a couple of days. Ask them to talk about their skills and accomplishments. Shine the spotlight on the revolutionary work they are doing and seeing in the arena of purpose. Add a few dashes of international flair (Brazil, Canada, Australia, UK, South Africa). And what you end up with is the first-ever Purpose Collaborative Summit, which took place October 18-20 in a variety of locations around Manhattan.
The Summit meetings were filled with lots of thoughtful panel discussions and presentations on topics such as the centrality of digital content and video; the challenges in understanding the new media landscape and pitching reporters or bloggers on purpose-related stories; the relevance (and irrelevance) of corporate brands; and advancements in corporate culture assessments and employee engagement programs.
Among the more resonant insights were these gems offered up by Collaborative members:
Purpose work can and is changing attitudes and minds… but not if it doesn’t also impact sales. And in many cases it is doing just that; we just need better metrics to prove that. (Laura Probst of Do Good: Make Money and Scott Beaudoin of RF Binder)
One key reason why purpose work must involve employees is that, in a post-trust age, when news media and government and most other institutions are held in very low regard, 65% of employees still believe in their companies. And even though that number is often cited as evidence of the deterioration of employer-employee relations, in comparison to the overall lack of trust in the world today, it is “pretty f-ing good.” Indeed, Delta was near the top of the list in corporate relevance not because of any great external purpose work they have done, but because “their employees really dig ‘em.” (Chris Noble of Matchfire and Rob Jekielek of W2O Group)
While content is king, it doesn’t require the crown jewels. Many of the winners at Cannes were lower budget affairs, and there is now excellent local, personal and emotional creative work coming out of even NGOs and government agencies. (Pia Garcia of Reputation Leaders, Nicole Rennie of Forward Storystudio and Elliot Kotek of Nation of Artists)
But beneath the surface of the conversations, and in the subtext of the PowerPoint slides, there was something more important than insights and trend analyses. There was a palpable sense of… momentum.
Maybe that’s because this was the Purpose Collaborative’s largest in-person gathering. Maybe that’s because it was the first time the Collaborative has truly engaged in knowledge-sharing and deep conversation since hope was given a thumping in the last presidential election. Regardless, it was almost as if the community of purpose experts who had gathered in New York knew that they were onto something – that this message of purpose integration and CSR reporting and sustainability initiatives that we have all been singing is about to make its debut on the main stage of corporate America (and Brazil and Canada, etc.) after years of performing in sideshow obscurity. It was a sense of being on the right side of history, and quite possibly in the right place and at the right time, as well.
So even if some Collaborative companies are still struggling a bit to persuade corporations about the very need for purpose work, and even if they are frustrated about the big bucks and lightweight results that traditional agencies are generating with their social media pseudo-marketing and celebrity-centric campaigns, it doesn’t really matter. The feeling at the Purpose Collaborative Summit was that business and society need us… and they are starting to recognize it.