The Role of Nonprofits in a Sustainable Economy

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Can we talk about vision statements? "We contribute to a better world" is one of these slogans that businesses try to sell their products with. Open any company website and the "about us"-page looks exactly the same these days. It's riddled with glittering generalities about sustainability, diversity, and responsibility. Don't get me wrong, it is great that business is done responsibly. But that should be a given, right? Not something to be proud of per se...

The problem is that many companies struggle with their 'raison d'être'. At least in their representation to the outside world, many companies pretend that they are all but the messiah, come to save the world. If that is your vision statement, then why are you incorporated as a business and not a non-profit entity? 

Let's take the Apple vision statement as an example. The first part "To make the best products on earth..." is really good. The vision statement of a company should indeed be a romantic image of success in which it is still clear that the goal is a successful business case. However, continuing with "..and to leave the world better than we found it." adds ambiguity and confuses purpose with responsible behavior. 

It seems modern business is ashamed of the primary corporate purpose. Has creating shareholder value become a taboo? Can shareholder value not be created in a responsible way? In my research, I empirically study nonprofit governance and accounting practices. However, this trend raises other questions for me, like:

Why do we see companies moving towards the nonprofit realm of having both a corporate mission and a social mission? (think about the French social enterprise) Also, is this vision ambiguity an efficient way of shaping our economy? Don't we already have economic actors that exist for a social purpose in nonprofit organizations? Does vision ambiguity not obfuscate the true objectives of an economic actor? How do we avoid greenwashing? 

The third sector has developed governance codes over the years to make sure all of their effort works towards a social mission, why is that not enough? And, with companies setting ESG goals, isn't the resulting ESG industry way more costly than sticking to the three-sector classification in our economy? Wouldn't it be more efficient for a corporation to pledge 1% of profits to nonprofit organizations? That would at least be easy to measure and audit. Assuming shareholders are okay with that...

Are you interested in working with me on such topics, let me know!