Outlook 2021

The Year of “S”

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2021 Outlook: The Year of “S”

According to McKinsey & Company, CEOs are spending 50% of their time on ESG topics.* As a result, purpose professionals are rapidly increasing their literacy and sophistication in this area. While the high ground for the “E” may already have been claimed, top spot for the “S” is still up for grabs. So, it’ll be up to the progressive and bold brands that are authentically committing to Social to define the playbook in 2021. Over time, this will lead to more companies adopting best practices.

One unique aspect of the “S” category is that it spans a wide range of stakeholders all the way from frontline workers, to community members, to board members. So, it requires a more holistic and engagement-driven approach, especially as we find ourselves firmly in the era of stakeholder capitalism. With all this much-needed emphasis on the “S” flowing from the pandemic and a broader acknowledgement of systemic racism and inequity, ESG is evolving from being a risk-mitigation and sustainability tool to a value-creation framework that will provide both the impetus and the practices for becoming a truly purpose-driven business and corporate culture. And a company’s purpose programs are the key lever in helping them to get there.

Now that business is firmly rooted as the most trusted institution — and the only one of the four main institutions (government, media, NGOs and business) that is seen as both ethical and competent — it mounts a certain kind of pressure (and opportunity) for companies to fill the void left by others. And it demands a new use of corporate purpose programs as a source of information, awareness, education and action.

In addition to generating positive social impact, when approached holistically corporate purpose has the potential to transform culture — it can be the force that opens up people to new viewpoints, ways of learning and understanding; helps people get comfortable being uncomfortable; creates the space for people to engage in civil and respectful debate on controversial, polarizing issues in disagreement without migrating to the poles; brings diverse people across the globe together on issues that matter to humanity; and acts as a catalyst for Goodness and empathy.

It’s 2021. We are in a post-Brexit and post-Trump world which will see continued political polarization, creating social undercurrents which can and will drive grassroots movements and newsworthy events at any time. Tension between individualism and collectivism continues to hang in the air as we all look to our employers and the brands we interact with to protect us and the values we hold dear.

At Benevity, we have the unique position to see what is possible when corporations use their power for good at scale. We hope that this report has offered a glimpse into the trends, tools and data that are needed to ensure that corporate purpose (and other!) leaders are equipped to achieve the full potential of business in shifting the world toward greater justice, equity and sustainability.

It’s 2021, and it’s the year of “S.”