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There are 3 Amsterdam Business School (ABS) researchers involved in the study on purpose-driven firms: Zahra Kashanizadeh, Henk Volberda and Pushpika Vishwanathan and a researcher from Leeds University Business School: Jatinder Sidhu. They applied for A Sustainable Future (ASF) funding in 2023. Their goal is to conduct research centered on corporate purpose. Kashanizadeh tells us more about the research.

Why did you want to carry out this research?

In recent years there have been a lot of theoretical and empirical discussions about corporate purpose. These discussions include how companies can focus on both financial success and social goals at the same time.

To add to this ongoing conversation, we conduct a study focusing on prominent companies in the Netherlands. In this research, we aim to obtain qualitative insights into how high-profile organisations are making the strategic shift to becoming purpose-driven.

Why is it important (for society) to learn more about this?

Hybrid organisations choose or abandon some practices to balance both social and financial goals. However, for-profit firms, which usually prioritise financial objectives, often face challenges in creating social impact, like sacrificing short-term profits. This makes the journey towards becoming purpose-driven more complicated. Therefore, it is important to explore the challenges for-profit firms face as they try to become more purpose-driven, especially because purpose-driven companies can focus on long-term societal benefits and will eventually create more values for society and for their organisation.

How could it positively impact society?

By interviewing strategic leaders, employees, and external stakeholders, we gain a comprehensive understanding of corporate purpose from different perspectives. This will help us in providing insightful recommendations that are aligned with the challenges faced by business leaders. Also, this study will assist for-profit firms in getting a more balanced focus on how to pursue financial goals and social impact goals at the same time.

We also believe that purpose-driven strategies offer important ways to achieve a sustainable economy, including a number of SDGs (UN’s Social Development Goals 8, 9, 10, 12 and 17). Economic growth is essential. But it has to be achieved in ways that are inclusive and innovative, with a positive impact.

How are you carrying out this research?

We are studying 10 prominent Dutch companies: ABN AMRO, Heineken, KLM, NXP, Philips, Protix, PwC, Randstad, The Port of Rotterdam Authority, and Shell. Our aim is to provide a novel perspective on how and to what degree they are purpose-driven. We do a qualitative analysis of archival data and 58 semi-structured interviews with the companies’ internal and external stakeholders. Based on this work, we will present a network of the drivers and practices that are key to having an explicit purpose orientation.

Could you share some first results?

Our findings shed light on why some companies embrace purpose wholeheartedly and why others sometimes struggle to effectively integrate it in their strategies. We determine internal and external factors that drive companies to develop a strong purpose beyond maximising profits. Our study also identifies key strategies that have a significant impact on a company’s path to becoming more purpose oriented. In addition, we describe purpose journeys that for-profit firms can follow to become more purpose-driven.

These are the initial results so far. We are still analysing our findings so I hope to provide more details soon on the abovementioned results in a follow-up article.