The aim of this research project was to explore the role and agency of the ‘purpose ecosystem’ in contributing to Earth System Governance.
Specifically, we examined if, and how, this emerging purpose ecosystem could represent an innovative form of private governance to help achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Based on in-depth interviews with 12 Australian organisations and 6 based in the UK we explored open-ended questions on: the definition of purpose; organisations’ respective theory of change; interactions among the purpose ecosystem intermediaries; barriers and challenges towards achieving progress; and, how the organisations address or contribute to the UN SDGs.
Key findings from both the Australian and the UK organisations include:
- Organisations employ a variety of definitions for purpose which all relate to supporting the achievement of business outcomes beyond profit.
- Organisations also use a variety of different engagement methods that often target key decision makers through theories of change based on awareness raising, education and individual support as well as new financial and organisational tools.
- Interactions among actors in the purpose ecosystem are characterised by mutual respect and recognition, but also a growing realisation that there is a significant degree of inefficiency and a need for some form of consolidation.
- Lack of funding and other resources are key barriers towards achieving greater progress and impact. Other challenges include persistent norms and habits among businesses as well as a need for greater coordination among the organisations in the purpose ecosystem.
- All organisations share an explicit awareness of the UN SDGs as a clear, comprehensive and useful framework within which to locate their efforts. While actors pursue different strategies and theories of change, their work directly supports the achievement of the UN SDGs through partnership with business.
Based on our preliminary research insights we provide some recommendations:
- More rigorous mapping of members in this purpose ecosystem to establish a better understanding of the different actors and their respective efforts;
- Creation of a community of practice or some other neutral forum where approaches and ideas can be discussed and coordinated;
- Research to identify and evaluate the different theories of change implemented to strengthen the evidence base for impact; and,
- Development of a platform that bundles and advertises different funding sources and opportunities for actors within this purpose ecosystem.
In conclusion, we believe this emerging purpose ecosystem could play a vital role in helping address sustainability challenges and support the achievement of the UN SDGs. To reach its full potential, however, a number of barriers and challenges need to be addressed through critical evaluation, greater collaboration and information sharing.
We invite practitioners and academics to provide us with feedback on these findings and join us in better understanding and supporting the evolution of the purpose ecosystem.
You can download the full project report here.