Purpose Incorporated: A primer for brands in APAC

This article is part of a special series on how brands in APAC can go beyond profit to do good and do better for themselves and others. Read more.

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Why it matters

Businesses seeking growth must move away from simply marrying good with mission towards building good into vision, making them truly purpose-led at the core, and a new model of sustainable capitalism has to be the way forward, where any company not taking a position on people, planet and prosperity will be ostracised.


  • Good and growth are not independent but within an integrated ecosystem where one cannot happen without the other.
  • A commitment to purpose requires change in strategy, mindsets, values and behaviours, and it starts at the top.

The launch and successful return of SpaceX’s Inspiration4, the world’s first all-civilian space mission, heralded a multi-planetary future for humanity. With a staggering $200 million raised for paediatric cancer research, Inspiration4 also shows us the power and possibilities of marrying good with mission.

However, we have arrived at an inflection point where businesses must move away from simply marrying good with mission towards actually building good into vision, making them truly purpose-led at the core.

Reckless, irresponsible growth is no longer to be tolerated by people, communities and our planet. Even for SpaceX’s Elon Musk, who himself “can’t think of anything more exciting than going out there and being among the stars”, the vast majority of resources should be spent on solving our problems here on earth.

In fact, dentsu’s Consumer Vision 2030 spelt out that a new model of sustainable capitalism must be the way forward, one where “any company not taking a position on people, planet and prosperity is not going to succeed in the long run and will be ostracised by consumers, suppliers and governments alike”.

Building good into vision the way forward for business growth

If a grim picture does not provide sufficient impetus for purposeful and balanced growth, perhaps it is in knowing that profits and growth can come from good that businesses will finally take action. For Dilhan Pillay Sandrasegara, CEO of Singapore investment company Temasek, “companies have to be on that journey (to sustainability) because the capital market will reward them”. 

Itself managing a multi-billion-dollar portfolio, Temasek strives to build a resilient portfolio of companies that will contribute to the progress of society by embedding ESG considerations throughout its investment process, while investing in technologies and solutions to achieve a more sustainable work.

Singapore-based food and agri-giant Olam is reimagining global agriculture towards improving farmer livelihoods, increasing community well-being and regenerating the living world.

Elsewhere, water treatment operator Grameen Veolia remained committed to its social goal by leveraging urban sales to subsidise village sales in Bangladesh.

Further west, US outdoor apparel company Patagonia, which is “in business to save the planet”, is a poster brand for pursuing progress in both profit and sustainability.

Making purpose real and sustainable

Appreciating the virtuous cycle of good and growth

At dentsu Singapore, we started our journey towards being a purpose-led business by first ensuring that we have a fundamental appreciation of the virtuous cycle of good and growth. Our introduction and continued education around this internally have been focused on ensuring that our people recognise that good and growth do not stand as independent pillars but rather within an integrated ecosystem where one cannot effectively happen without the other.

“How much budget should we set aside to be a ‘force for good’?” is another question we have had to address even among senior executives because another common misconception is that good necessarily equates to philanthropy.

While having a charitable agenda continues to be important as it can provide immediate benefit to communities, being a force for good does not mean providing pro bono services, making donations or simply planting some trees but instead, working with businesses or on projects that are committed to doing good and which will in turn translate to profits.

As societal values and actions shift towards the call for integrated progress reflected in the United Nations’ 17 sustainable development goals, we are seeing increasing groundswell from our stakeholders in support of our commitment to good and growth.

More of our incumbent clients are now including purpose-led requirements as an important component of their briefs. For example, dentsu’s enduring global relationship with Standard Chartered is the result of a shared commitment and progress towards being a force for good that is valued by the client.

Similarly, dentsu’s work on IKEA’s Black Friday (Re)sale campaign in Denmark and Kroger’s Chefbot in the US both demonstrate more demand for partnerships to deliver good for growth work. And as more born-for-good startups emerge, we expect more opportunities to help such businesses scale through their capabilities in 2022 and beyond, such as what we see in dentsu Singapore’s partnership with foodtech startup Float Foods and urban farming company Sustenir Agriculture.

Overall, we anticipate that the good and growth business will make up a larger portion of our work in 2022.

Getting the house ready: Convince and co-create

A commitment to purpose requires change in strategy, mindsets, values and behaviours. Oftentimes, change is sweeping and hence uncomfortable but change must start from the top, with leaders believing in and wanting to commit to a purpose-led model across the organisation.

While leadership buy-in and commitment are critical to kickstart the purpose journey, purpose also cannot simply remain as an executive agenda. An organisation’s employees need to understand, believe and want to make purpose the heart and soul of the business.

At dentsu Singapore, purpose begins with the CEO who has been responsible for firstly having authentic conversations with leaders to convince and co-create a purpose-led model that is appropriate for the business and our people, and secondly continually building purpose into organisational values as well as culture.

Since officially embracing this shift towards purpose in early 2020, we have learnt that it does not happen by leaders simply saying “let’s do it”. It is a journey built on discipline and clear communications, and we have structured an iterative process to support this by:

  • Providing a clear understanding of purpose: What exactly is purpose and what it is not, why it is important, what it looks like for your organisation, how they can make it their purpose, and when they can expect milestones and successes.
  • Having your leaders talk about it and making it real within teams.
  • Providing training opportunities to equip teams with the knowledge and skills to manage stakeholder conversations towards good and growth.
  • Spotlighting purpose in onboarding experiences and embedding purpose into performance indicators, supported by continuous HR engagement.
  • Opening channels for feedback to continually improve the purpose journey.
Executing a purpose-led business model and strategy

Values and culture will form the roots of a strong purpose-led culture but purpose talk without purpose action can lead to increased sceptism and reduced alignment with goals. A purpose-led business model, therefore, is what will put it into action.

Our commitment to targets pegged to good and growth business opportunities is an important first step to making purpose real. As a business, we have set our sights on a conservative goal of a portion of our work pegged to good and growth opportunities in 2022 and will review for upward adjustments as our purpose-led journey progresses.

The ability to achieve targets pegged to good and growth starts by proactively seeking good and growth opportunities, and it is important to provide clear and easy processes for teams to identify them. 

A good way to do this is by aligning hunting and farming objectives to the SDGs. Our teams, for example, are asked to address a set of simple questions on all briefs as a means to trigger a thought process that aligns to addressing any of the SDGs. Advanced purpose models may even consider having more institutionalised processes built into formalised systems that also enable robust tracking and attribution of revenue to the committed targets.

Whichever the process, it is important that it does not become simply a box-checking exercise that no one is truly invested in. Ensure that your process is meaningful, effective but not cumbersome or too time-consuming.

Building good into vision is a goal but more importantly, purpose is an iterative journey that needs to be adaptive.

As we face larger and existential threats on earth, purpose-led businesses will be at the forefront of multi-stakeholder partnerships designed to achieve progress in addressing these threats. As an industry that is a beacon of data-driven and tech-enabled groundbreaking creative ideas, we must ensure that we play a key role in making such teaming/partnerships happen. With vast expertise and resources in creativity and innovation, the marketing communications industry is in pole position to make this real by committing to being a force for good and growth.

Therefore, as we look towards the stars to imagine a multi-planetary future, let’s also reimagine the possibilities that we can meaningfully champion on earth if we are collectively grounded on purpose.

About the authors

Prakash brings with him 25 years of expertise in digital marketing and digital transformation, and a deep passion for collective power of creativity, design, data and technology in transforming businesses and lives.

With 15 years’ communications experience, Carol dreams of a world defined by good and has a deep passion for championing change to make that happen.