2017 Social Purpose Predictions

Better to be a Dog in a Peaceful Time, Than to be a Human in a Chaotic Period

It’s a New Year, and as per usual a spate of new predictions is being posted on topics ranging from food to technology to healthcare. Since the holidays, I cannot stop thinking about the so-called Chinese curse which seems to be the perfect headline for the year to come: “May you live in interesting times.”

With Brexit finalizing its ‘divorce’ from the EU, the refugee crisis continuing to make headlines, 900 hate crimes in the U.S. being committed in just 10 days in November 2016, and an incoming American President who is anything but predictable, is this a ‘usual’ year where we can make such predictions?

This instability is probably most felt in the area of social purpose, corporate social responsibility (CSR) and environmental sustainability. So what do I think will really happen? Here are my 2017 top predictions for the state of social purpose:

  1. The Era of “Righteous Purpose” – Particularly here in the U.S., we are going to see a lot of companies who are willing to be brave activate campaigns that are stronger in message, and bolder in intent in terms of the statement they’re trying to make – essentially becoming more righteous in their messaging and positioning. We saw the rise in these kinds of campaigns with many of last year’s winners at Cannes. There is undeniable science and data that still proves that we have a lot of work to do on key social issues such as poverty and the environment, and because the new Administration are likely to put limits on some of this progress in the social and policy arena, purpose-driven companies are going to rally to these causes more than ever before.

We are also going to see a lot of purpose-driven companies, to use an old adage, ‘not take it lying down.’ More protests, more marches, more companies looking beyond competitive business forces to align on common values to essentially fight back against the change that has been promised by the incoming president.

  1. Protection at Work – Expect to see shifts in the blend of employee engagement + purpose – essentially, employers helping its employees have more protection for the beliefs that are currently threatened to be stripped of in the public domain – their personal beliefs, religious beliefs, greater (public) efforts around diversity/inclusion, and support when particular marginalized groups are attacked.
  1. The Marriage of Talent and Purpose – As my friend Aaron Hurst, author of Purpose at Work, former founder of Taproot and the current founder of the purpose-at-work shop Imperative has been teaching and preaching for awhile to today’s younger workforce – having a job ‘with purpose’ matters more than salary and traditional benefits. To hire and retain the best talent, companies will no longer be able to separate a job description with how that job can do some good in the world. It’s a two-fer – help the planet, and keep a Millennial and Gen Z workforce passionate about coming to work every day. 
  1. Virtual Reality for Social Good – The exploding trend of virtual reality (VR) promises to be a major catalyst for social good this year. It has the potential to overhaul the way many companies, government entities and nonprofits around the world can engage in addressing and solving social issues. It also will offer more access to donors, activists, and anyone concerned with helping the world by helping them walk in the shoes of a mother struggling to feed their children in rural Africa, escape the human trafficking trade in Brazil, or protect the tigers from deforestation. Expect to see companies and creative shops launch VR campaigns to address pressing social problems, with one watchout: closing the empathy gap. Like any new whizbang technology, VR is so next-wave that if not executed with empathy and heart, could leave a creative campaign dry of the emotion that creates powerful social purpose storytelling.
  1. CSR Reporting: Shorter+Dynamic+Emotional – Global CSR/Sustainability reporting has become a mainstay for any company who wants to have any credibility in its social purpose efforts. But let’s be frank – reporting, and reports, can be b o r i n g. That’s why I have been excited over the last year to see fresh, more dynamic and frankly fun reports come from companies like this ‘choose your own adventure’ report from Ben & Jerry, this dynamic report from UK leader Marks+Spencer and this powerful video from Heineken, who invited vocal artist Kevin ‘Blaxtar’ de Randamie to transform the report into his own artistic expression. Expect to see more of this from companies who want to separate themselves from the norm and use a fresh, creative, human-centric and storytelling approach to reporting.

There are a few obvious predictions I have left out, and for good reason – here in the U.S. we are in a (scary) political wait-and-see period on some of the top concerns like climate change, renewable power and citizenship. And until we start to see the first swipes from our new administration on these issues, it’s just frankly tough to predict where we will land a year from now. Which is why it is so interesting that the so-called Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times” is not translated quite right. Coming off a polarizing election season in the United States and the level of unsettledness around the world, I believe that the actual Chinese translation is more apt as the predictions mantra for 2017: “Better to be a dog in a peaceful time, than to be a human in a chaotic period.”

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