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Profit for Purpose: Moral compass and bottom line

What do we mean by the statement: "P-CED takes the bottom line one step further: to people, past numbers" ? 

It begins in 1996 with the question of how the economy could better serve humanity. It was delivered in a white paper for the US President.which described a business model with a primary social purpose and began with this question:.

"At first glance, it might seem redundant to emphasize people as the central focus of economics. After all, isn't the purpose of economics, as well as business, people? Aren't people automatically the central focus of business and economic activities? Yes and no."

Ten years later 'Profit for a Purpose' is the subject of a discussion on Skoll Social Edge, bringing together the academics and practitioners supporting this self sustaining approach     

The recently published Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade, the manifesto which the International Co-operative Alliance (ICA) hopes will drive forward the co–operative concept up to and beyond 2020, claims that "by putting human need and utility at the centre of their organisational purpose, rather than profit, co-operatives do not suffer from the same problem of short-termism that afflicts all manner of financial and non-financial firms".

Today in 2013, writing of where the moral compass meets the bottom line, Unilever CEO Paul Polman says:

"When people talk about new forms of capitalism, this is what I have in mind: companies that show, in all transparency, that they are contributing to society, now and for many generations to come. Not taking from it.

It is nothing less than a new business model. One that focuses on the long term. One that sees business as part of society, not separate from it. One where companies seek to address the big social and environmental issues that threaten social stability. One where the needs of citizens and communities carry the same weight as the demands of shareholders."

With a working 'profit for purpose model' we began researching and designing strategies to tackle global poverty   From the paper 'Microeconomic Development and Social Enterprise - a 'Marshall Plan' for Ukraine 2006

' In order to understand the overwhelming critical need for social enterprise and a formal national center to facilitate social enterprise, an operational definition for social enterprise is essential.

'Enterprise is any organizational activity aimed at a specific output or outcome. Once the output or outcome – the primary objective – is clear, an organization operating to fulfill the objective is by definition an enterprise. Business is the most prominent example of enterprise. A business plan, or organizational map, provides a reference regarding how an organizational scheme will operate to produce a specific outcome: provision of products or services in a way to create profit. Profit in turn is measured numerically in terms of monetary gains, the “bottom line.”

This is the function of classic capitalism, which has proven to be the most powerful economic engine ever devised.

An inherent assumption about capitalism is that profit is defined only in terms of monetary gain. This assumption is virtually unquestioned in most of the world. However, it is not a valid assumption. Business enterprise, capitalism, must be measured in terms of monetary profit. That rule is not arguable. A business enterprise must make monetary profit, or it will merely cease to exist. That is an absolute requirement. But it does not follow that this must necessarily be the final bottom line and the sole aim of the enterprise. How this profit is used is another question. It is commonly assumed that profit will enrich enterprise owners and investors, which in turn gives them incentive to participate financially in the enterprise to start with.

That, however, is not the only possible outcome for use of profits. Profits can be directly applied to help resolve a broad range of social problems: poverty relief, improving childcare, seeding scientific research for nationwide economic advancement, improving communications infrastructure and accessibility, for examples – the target objectives of this particular project plan. The same financial discipline required of any conventional for-profit business can be applied to projects with the primary aim of improving socioeconomic conditions. Profitability provides money needed to be self-sustaining for the purpose of achieving social and economic objectives such as benefit of a nation’s poorest, neediest people. In which case, the enterprise is a social enterprise.'

In the conclusion, the paper says:

'This is a long-term permanently sustainable program, the basis for "people-centered" economic development. Core focus is always on people and their needs, with neediest people having first priority – as contrasted with the eternal chase for financial profit and numbers where people, social benefit, and human well-being are often and routinely overlooked or ignored altogether. This is in keeping with the fundamental objectives of Marshall Plan: policy aimed at hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos. This is a bottom-up approach, starting with Ukraine's poorest and most desperate citizens, rather than a "top-down" approach that might not ever benefit them. They cannot wait, particularly children. Impedance by anyone or any group of people constitutes precisely what the original Marshall Plan was dedicated to opposing. Those who suffer most, and those in greatest need, must be helped first -- not secondarily, along the way or by the way. '

It was the major and final work of founder Terry Hallman whose efforts began with a seminal paper for the President of the United States and led to the creation of a business for social purpose which leveraged a community micro finance bank in Russia. P-CED established in the UK in a business serving both private and public sector supply chains with it's software products and services.        ,

In You, Me, We, Ethics and People-Centered Economics, I relate how the concept evolved from an argument for the primacy of human beings over profit and numbers.      

Moving on from Russia with a development proposal for the repatriated Tatars of Crimea it was argued that:

"There is no requirement in capitalism for the direction in which profits will go. They can accumulate in the hands of a few people, and they can be made available to meet social needs. Using profit to meet social needs does not necessarily remove the profit motive because everyone involved in such an enterprise is likely to want it to be profitable so that they will continue to have a job and income. This has been the case many times in US companies, for example. A company may have an economic downturn and lose money instead of making profit. Employees often accept lower pay to keep their jobs and to keep the company going. Employees know very well that the company must once again make a profit – end up with more money than it requires to operate it each year – if they are to keep their jobs. Otherwise, it will consume more money than is needed to operate and finally cease to exist when all of its money is gone. Employees accepting lower pay is a way to help return the company to profitability. The employees all share the profit motive. The profit motive is not the exclusive domain of the few people who start a company. It is shared by everyone involved because each has his or her own self-interest in keeping the company going."

In 2004, it had been introduced to British Government and the social enterprise community, saying:

Dealing with poverty is nothing new. The question became ‘how does poverty still exist in a world with sufficient resources for a decent quality of life for everyone?’ The answer was that we have yet to develop any economic system capable redistributing finite resources in a way that everyone has at minimum enough for a decent life: food, decent housing, transportation, clothing, health care, and education. The problem has not been lack of resources, but adequate distribution of resources. Capitalism is the most powerful economic engine ever devised, yet it came up short with its classical, inherent profit-motive as being presumed to be the driving force. Under that presumption, all is good in the name of profit became the prevailing winds of international economies — thereby giving carte blanche to the notion that greed is good because it is what has driven capitalism. The 1996 paper merely took exception with the assumption that personal profit, greed, and the desire to amass as much money and property on a personal level as possible are inherent and therefore necessary aspects of any capitalist endeavour. While it is in fact very normal for that to be the case, it simply does not follow that it must be the case.

Profits can be set aside in part to address social needs, and often have been by way of small percentages of annual profits set aside for charitable and philanthropic causes by corporations. This need not necessarily be a small percentage. In fact, there is no reason why an enterprise cannot exist for the primary purpose of generating profit for social needs — i.e., a P-CED, or social, enterprise. This was seen to be the potential solution toward correcting the traditional model of capitalism, even if only in small-scale enterprises on an experimental basis.

Enterprise for the primary objective of poverty relief, localized community economic development, and social support became the business model which guided P-CED’s efforts and development at a time in the US when terms such as ‘social enterprise’ and ‘social capitalism’ had not yet been coined.

Traditional capitalism is an insufficient economic model allowing monetary outcomes as the bottom line with little regard to social needs. Bottom line must be taken one step further by at least some companies, past profit, to people. How profits are used is equally as important as creation of profits. Where profits can be brought to bear by willing individuals and companies to social benefit, so much the better. Moreover, this activity must be recognized and supported at government policy level as a badly needed, essential, and entirely legitimate enterprise activity.”

Though some aspects of this recomendation were addressed by the introduction of the Community Interest Company in 2005 and the Social Value Act in 2013, two major components, localisation and human rights, were overlooked. See P-CED home page

The concept of a business operating for the benefit of the community was first described in the 1996 white paper, which said: 

"The P-CED concept is to create new businesses that do things differently from their inception, and perhaps modify existing businesses that want to do it. This business model entails doing exactly the same things by which any business is set up and conducted in the free-market system of economics. The only difference is this: that at least fifty percent of profits go to stimulate a given local economy, instead of going to private hands."

"If a corporation wants to donate to its local community, it can do so, be it one percent, five percent, fifty or even seventy percent. There is no one to protest or dictate otherwise, except a board of directors and stockholders. This is not a small consideration, since most boards and stockholders would object.  But, if an a priori arrangement has been made with said stockholders and directors such that this direction of profits is entirely the point, then no objection can emerge. Indeed, the corporate charter can require that these monies be directed into community development funds, such as a permanent, irrevocable trust fund. The trust fund, in turn, would be under the oversight of a board of directors made up of corporate employees and community leaders. "

"It is only when wealth begins to concentrate in the hands of a relative few at the expense of billions of others who are denied even a small share of finite wealth that trouble starts and physical, human suffering begins. It does not have to be this way. Massive greed and consequent massive human misery and suffering do not have to be accepted as a givens, unavoidable, intractable, irresolvable. Just changing the way business is done, if only by a few companies, can change the flow of wealth, ease and eliminate poverty, and leave us all with something better to worry about. Basic human needs such as food and shelter are fundamental human rights; there are more than enough resources available to go around--if we can just figure out how to share. It cannot be "Me first, mine first"; rather, "Me, too" is more the order of the day."

The first action was to share this concept with the committee to re-elect the US President in 1996 and then publish online free to use. In 2009, at the international Economics for Ecology conference in Sumy, this point was made:

"Thus the issue of ecology economics is not only 'the third bottom line', it might be more aptly renamed the economics of survival of the human species.  That includes everyone, regardless of one or another economic hypothesis or theory they might prefer.  We can endlessly debate and discuss von Mises/von Hayek free market economics/capitalism which proved successful except for the times it failed, and then study why it failed – repeatedly, the most recent failure in September 2008.  We can endlessly debate and discuss opposing Keynesian government interventionist economics/capitalism,  which proved successful except for the times it failed.  That has been an alternating pattern for the past eighty years in Western capitalism.  We can discuss the successes and failures of various flavors of communism and fascism.  At this point, the simple fact is that regarding economic theory, no one knows what to do next.  Possibly this has escaped immediate attention in Ukraine, but, economists in the US as of the end of 2008 openly confessed that they do not know what to do.  So, we invented three trillion dollars, lent it to ourselves, and are trying to salvage a broken system so far by reestablishing the broken system with imaginary money.

Now there are, honestly, no answers.  It is all just guesswork, and not more than that.  What is not guesswork is that the broken – again – capitalist system, be it traditional economics theories in the West or hybrid communism/capitalism in China, is sitting in a world where the existence of human beings is at grave risk, and it's no longer alarmist to say so.

The question at hand is what to do next, and how to do it.  We all get to invent whatever new economics system that comes next, because we must."

P-CED began as a challenge to traditional capitalism and would lead on to challenge organised crime over human rights. It would finally challenge the governments and politicians who put personal benefit above that of "those in greatest need".    

The primary focus of P-CED became the removal of children from neglect in state institutions, for Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Danone, the 'bottom line' is the number of children removed from malnutrition.

Social business is "All about others, nothing about me"



In his speech Yunus also refers to the 47 million Americans without health insurance. P-CED founder Terry Hallman was one of them

Though we may have re-imagined capitalism, as Martin Luther King Jr once said 'our lives begin to end when we become silent about things that matter'  and when we are silenced by others, many lives are ended.      

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An interesting conversation on this matter took place in 2012 between Marc J Lane, Chairman of the State of Illinois' Task Force on Social Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Enterprise and Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus, who tells an interesting story of how Danone shareholders were won over to social investment.