The social purpose of business

By Martin Vogel

Cadbury’s packing room at Bournville

Since the start of 2011, I’ve been noticing increasingly common references to the social purpose of business – an idea which, until recently, many would have regarded as an oxymoron.

The first sighting was a Harvard Business Review cover article by Michael Porter and Mark Kramer called Creating Social Value. This argues that capitalism is facing a crisis of legitimacy which can be overcome only if businesses put aside the notion that there is an inherent trade-off between profitability and attention to social needs.

After that, references came grouped together like buses. Matthew Taylor referred to Porter and Kramer in a blog post he wrote on the contribution businesses could make to David Cameron’s Big Society (they have potential to deploy their brands and their product development on encouraging socially desirable behavioural change).

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