Business is no longer just about creating products and services that make money. Now, more than ever before, it’s important for companies to put purpose at the heart of what they do.
We’ve made sure that purpose has been integral to the Virgin brand from the beginning. I started Student magazine at age 15 to give my generation a voice, and campaign on issues we cared passionately about, like ending the Vietnam War. This mission resonated far and wide, and we achieved great success with a number of high-profile names appearing in and supporting the magazine. With Virgin Records we took a chance on a variety of artists – many of which had been overlooked by other labels – because we believed that the world needed to hear their music. By staying true to our values and the artists that we signed, we were able to grow Virgin Records into the world’s biggest independent record label.
As the Virgin Group has developed, and the world around has changed, our purpose has also evolved. Alongside having fun and supporting our people, we’re very much focused on using business as a force for good. This purpose is most obvious in the work we do through our non-profit foundation, Virgin Unite – which works tirelessly to raise awareness about challenges like climate change and conservation, as well as empower thousands of people with opportunities to build a more positive future. Another organisation where our purpose is wonderfully evident is Virgin StartUp – our non-profit foundation that arms new UK businesses with the resources and support they need to fulfil their potential and create positive change in the world.
One great example of this is Change Please, a Virgin StartUp-funded and Big Issue-supported business, which sells sustainably-sourced coffee from mobile carts manned by homeless people. Proceeds from every coffee sold go towards helping that person and others in a similar position out of poverty. I had the pleasure of the company’s founder, Cemal Ezel, on Necker Island at a recent Virgin Unite Disrupting for Good summit. He’s a wonderful individual with an inspired vision – I hope more business leaders follow his lead.
The desire to make a positive difference is within most of us, but it can be daunting to set out to make an impact. Businesses have the power to make things easier for consumers. If we can help lift someone out of homelessness by buying a cup of coffee, imagine all the good that can be done when all companies place emphasis on purpose. Many customers want to buy from businesses that share similar values to their own, so more and more consumers are aligning themselves to impactful companies that sell social or environmentally-conscious products and services.
I particularly encourage start-ups to make a commitment to making a positive change in the world. Being a new business gives you the agility to really think about what’s important to you. So choose your cause, and put your purpose at the forefront from the start. If you make it part of your story, both your business and the world will reap the rewards.