Until the late 1900s, most businesses had their own best interests at heart. The primary focus of companies was placed on maximising value for their shareholders. They paid little consideration to more than a healthy bottom line. At the World Economic Forum in January 1999, former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, notably challenged business leaders to join an international initiative – the United Nations Global Compact – saying, “I call on you to embrace, support and enact a set of core values in the areas of human rights, labour standards and environmental practices.”  

Today, the world’s businesses are beginning to accept their responsibility to society. Business practices that protect human rights, preserve the environment, and maintain a high ethical standard are all considered values to build a healthy business on.  


Big business is trusted more than government to make a positive impact 

An interesting article, Can Business Change the World2, published by London Business School early in 2023 states:  

“Companies are now the world’s most trusted of the four collective institutions of government, business, NGOs and the media. Fewer than half of people believe the government is reaching key milestones on social challenges, according to the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer, which surveyed 36,000 respondents in 28 countries. On competence, business is ahead of government by a 53-point margin.”  


The article goes on to talk about business’s new sense of responsibility, saying: 

“In the last few years, the idea of business models that put stakeholders first has become increasingly prominent, owing to social movements such as Black Lives Matter, events such as Covid-19 and the rise of climate activists, as well the vast sums of money pouring into ESG (environmental, social and governance) funds. Faced with reputational damage and the loss of investors, employees or customers, companies have embraced stakeholder interests like never before.”  


Today, large corporations are seen to have the scale and depth of resources to find solutions to pressing, large scale social and environmental challenges. For example:  

  • Due to climate change, the integrity of the food chain is under the spotlight and corporations are having to reassess their environmental footprint and place a focus on food’s health benefits and allergy causing ingredients.  
  • Due to consumer preference, eco-friendly brands and products are “among the greatest sources of positive global change”2 


Small and medium business can also play a significant role in changing the world 

SMEs account for the largest number of businesses worldwide. Through collective clout they contribute significantly to employment, innovation and economic growth – and are thought to be the backbone of any healthy economy. Small and medium and micro-sized enterprises (SMMEs) play an indispensable role in driving economic growth and development in South Africa. 

When it comes to changing the world, in the hands of an SME – or a micro enterprise or start up – even the most modest initiative can have a profound impact on a community. Donating money or resources to a charity, or volunteering to help on an ongoing basis, can make a significant difference. For example, beyond doing good for 67 minutes once a year on Mandela Day, a South African company could start by including their employees in partaking in small fundraising events, encouraging the team to volunteer – and maybe joining hands with other businesses who are likeminded and share their mission to increase the impact.  


How does helping to change the world impact companies and employees? 

Millennials, who will make up 75% of the world’s workforce by 2025, are known to favour socially responsible employers. They consider a company’s commitment to positive social and environmental change when choosing an employer. They care about social responsibility as a critical element of corporate culture because they want to work for a company that does good.  

Employees are more likely to feel that they “fit right” within a company that stands for social change. Getting involved in meaningful social impact initiatives provides employees with a higher purpose beyond their role. The outcome is that employees feel more engaged and satisfied in fulfilling their daily tasks. This becomes a powerful driving force, inspiring loyalty and hard work.  


How can you change the world by focusing on the wellbeing of your employees?  

It is important to help your employees find work-related purpose

In addition to being externally focused, a company’s purpose should also be inward-focused. This way work itself becomes meaningful to employees as day-day work becomes purpose-driven. For starters, employees do not thrive as unseen cogs in a machine. Every single employee, from executive level down to janitorial staff plays an important part in the smooth functioning of a business. It creates a sense of individual and team purpose when every employee is communicated with to understand the importance of the role they play as it fits into the company as a whole.  

Regular employee-orientated company get-togethers and interactive team or small group sessions can be highly effective at helping employees start to see the good they can do in their day-to-day work. Many people spend most of their waking hours at work, so creating a culture where finding purpose in the little things can quickly snowball into impacting much bigger things. And it creates space for two-way communication that leads to new ideas and innovation.  

By doing your part to help employees live their purpose at work, you will empower them. And when their purpose is aligned with the company’s own purpose, employees’ sense of fulfillment will benefit the company, too. 

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Over to you for sharing your comments and experiences.

About the Author: Kerstin Jatho

Kerstin is the senior transformational coach and team development facilitator for 4Seeds Consulting. She is also the author of Growing Butterfly Wings, a book on applying positive psychology principles during a lengthy recovery. Her passion is to develop people-centred organisations where people thrive and achieve their potential in the workplace. You can find Kerstin on LinkedIn, Soundcloud, YouTube and Facebook.

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