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Profit with Purpose: How Social Impact Startups are Changing the Game


In today's business landscape, the adage "doing well by doing good" has taken center stage. Professor Henrietta Onwuegbuzie of Lagos Business School asserts that "being purpose-driven helps companies grow faster and make more money." This raises a fundamental question: what does it mean to be a purpose-driven business, and how can startups successfully balance social impact and profitability?


The Importance of Social Impact

Studies and consumer trends highlight the undeniable importance of social impact in the business world. According to the 2018 Cone/Porter Novelli Purpose study, a staggering 78% of American consumers believe that businesses should have a positive impact on society. The study further reveals compelling data:

  • Over 50% of millennials are willing to pay extra for environmentally friendly products.

  • 66% of respondents would switch brands to support a cause.

  • 88% would prefer to buy from a social impact company.

  • Impact-driven brands enjoy 79% customer loyalty.

  • Purpose often takes precedence over low cost or high quality, prevailing 62% of the time.

In essence, incorporating social impact into the business equation not only drives profits but also boosts customer engagement and loyalty. Striking the right balance between impact and profit empowers businesses to fund their operations and realize their long-term vision.


Navigating the Three Approaches

Organizations typically adopt one of three main approaches concerning social impact and profit:

  1. Profit-focused: These companies prioritize profitability but may have adverse effects on the environment, local communities, and worker well-being.

  2. Corporate social responsibility (CSR): CSR companies allocate a portion of their profits to support social causes, implement eco-friendly policies, or develop community programs while keeping their primary focus on profit.

  3. Social impact: These companies are dedicated to systematically and sustainably serving the needs of communities, either locally or globally, through their core business activities. However, challenges such as funding, networking, and organizational stability often hinder their success.


Building a Profitable Impact-Oriented Business

Sustainability encompasses not only environmental impact but also the long-term viability of the business itself. The ability to attract funding and generate profit enhances a business's chances of remaining operational and maximizing its social impact.


Here are steps to building a profitable impact-oriented business:

  1. Define Vision and Mission: Clearly communicate core values and purpose through organizational vision and mission statements.

  2. Select Your Approach: Brainstorm different problem-solving approaches and corresponding products or services that align with your strengths and interests.

  3. Validate Demand: Avoid product fixation by focusing on your vision and desired impact. Choose the product or service with the most substantial business potential.

  4. Create a Startup Plan: Develop a comprehensive business plan that encompasses product, market, operations, and resources to achieve your vision.

  5. Lead and Engage: Build and nurture relationships with investors, customers, partners, and employees. Social responsibility can play a pivotal role in engaging stakeholders and strengthening your brand.


Key Takeaways

Balancing social impact and profit is a challenging yet crucial endeavor for future-focused organizations. While customer expectations and market trends emphasize the significance of purpose-driven businesses, current approaches require further refinement.


Social impact can enhance engagement but may not always translate directly into revenue or sustain a business. Profit-focused entities run the risk of losing customers to purpose-driven competitors. Therefore, companies, regardless of their size, sector, or primary focus, stand to benefit most by combining a strong business case with a clear social impact element at their core. Achieving the delicate equilibrium between profit and impact is the path to financial, environmental, and social sustainability in the evolving world of business.


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