Leading With Purpose: navigating challenges and continuing on the path to sustainability

Updated: May 12, 2020

By Mihaela Nina

The impact of the pandemic on the global economy is undeniable and its scale has been ever evolving starting with the first quarter of the year. Some of the industries have been brought at a standstill, such as airline and travel, the traditional bricks and mortar stores and F&B outlets were temporarily shut down in many countries around the world, countries have been imposing nation-wide lockdowns, and overall, according to UN and S&P Global Ratings, the global GDP is expected to fall by 1%-2.4% this year.

With this, sustainable development is hindered, as its single one of its dimensions are affected, the economic one aforementioned, as well as the social and environmental ones. We had for instance a rushed transition to online education, and remote learning might not always be available, thus affecting SDG4 – Quality Education, jobs have been cut and with it unemployment rates are increasing, which impacts the progress towards SDG 8 – Decent Work and Economic Growth and not to mention SDG 3- Good Health and Wellbeing which is at the core of the global pandemic. With each single SDG being impacted, as outlined in UN’s report “Shared Responsibility, Global Solidarity: Responding to the socio-economic impacts of Covid-19”, and with the SDGs requiring USD 5-7 trillion annually at a global level, the question is why and how can the private sector continue addressing sustainability and what can be done to continue on the path of the 2030 agenda post-pandemic?

The pandemic has indeed put an immense stress on businesses, from supply chain interruptions, to employees needing to be transitioned in virtual working spaces, and not to mention the inability of sustain costs as limited or no revenues have been generated within several industries. Some had the ability to pivot, to commit to not letting go of employees or to give back to their communities while for others their very survival has been put at a high risk. Businesses’ attention has been understandably focused on crisis management, on the immediate responses to support them navigate this crisis. But in the same time, impact leadership, which has purpose at its core, has also been rising with the fundamental of this being, besides demonstrating ethics and responsibility, that businesses can leverage their capabilities and resources to the benefit of society and their stakeholders. And while doing so and reducing the impact of Covid-19, businesses will support rebuilding an ecosystem in which they can then thrive, drive impact on and strengthen the trust and engagement with their stakeholders.

Moving purpose at the forefront of business models and strategies has an underlying relation to sustainability as a leadership is centered around purpose results in driving impact to stakeholders, the very same principle of sustainable development. Leading with purpose has an immense potential to support organizations (assuming that they have not been critically affected by this crisis) navigate the current challenges and guide them post-pandemic towards aligning to and driving progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.


Being at the core of any organization, the workforce is where our primary attention is needed. In the incipient stages of the Covid-19 outbreak, the focus was placed on ensuring the health and safety of the employees, be it by providing them with protective gear, by a rotation working schedule or by implementing working from home systems. Instead of letting go of the workforce, again considering that the liquidities permit it, we can look instead into reductions in pay or even more repurposing employees towards other roles. Look into the values of the organization, and areas such as inclusiveness, or togetherness and ensure that these reflect in how to deal with this crisis. How can the teams be involved in the ideation and conceptualization of solutions to support the organization navigate the current challenges? Purpose to drive an impact on and responsibility towards the workforce leads to engaged teams, which according to multiple statistics reflect in 20%+ productivity, revenues and profitability.

From customers to communities

Brands have been scrutinized for their behaviour towards the society and environment, with data reflecting purchasing decisions based on organizational contribution on sustainable development (70%+ of millennial consumers even being willing to pay more for products or services from responsible brands). The actions taken during these crucial times of crisis towards supporting the wider community will strengthen the trust in those organizations that are leading with purpose. And this trust could lead to bouncing back faster post-pandemic. There are numerous examples of organizations that during these times have responded immediately by repurposing their manufacturing lines towards the production of medical gear, equipment, or supplies. Others are pivoting and using their logistics infrastructure in support of other industries. Others are deploying financial aid to the affected communities. In a regional context a few examples are those of Immensa Technology Labs in Sharjah for instance that has been 3-D printing face shields, Bekia in Egypt that transformed a recycling platform into a grocery delivery one, or just simply thanking the frontline workers by making 1000 free staycations available to them in the case of Jebel Ali resorts. What is it that your organization has as primary product or service? What can you do now and post-pandemic to add value to your customers and within your community?

A lesson of this crisis is that solidarity and collaborations are key and only by all of us coming together we can contain the further spread of the virus, reduce its negative impacts, and slowly start recovering. It is also a time to reassess the purpose of an organization, and to demonstrate empathy and leadership by maximizing on the value and impact you can drive, no matter the scale that an organization has.

About the Author Mihaela Nina is the Founder of Concerto TIC and leads the strategy development and implementation projects

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