Daniela Flores is the co-founder of Purpose Union. As corporate focus shifts from not just how much profit is earned, but how and why it is created, demand for services that can help evaluate, strategise and implement this in a way that benefits both people and planet, is increasing.
What exactly is Purpose Union?
Purpose Union is a social purpose agency. We are a team of strategists united by the belief that the world is better off when companies and organisations think, act and communicate with a clear social purpose.
We work with clients in the private, public and social sectors, providing a range of services around their purpose life cycle. We develop narratives and create campaigns, helping organisations to engage with key internal and external audiences around their purpose. We also build coalitions and advise companies on taking a stand around major social issues, such as diversity and inclusion, social mobility, climate change, mental health and childhood obesity.
Companies are becoming more and more invested in these topics, especially in the current climate of political and economic instability. With governments failing to take responsibility, we see business leaders are increasingly filling the void.
For most of the businesses engaging with Purpose Union, are these incentives financially motivated and profit-driven, or do they form a separate social arm?
Recently in business we have seen the shift from CSR (corporate social responsibility) to social purpose. Previously, many companies would see CSR or Sustainability as a separate part of their operations, and a way to fulfil their philanthropic goals, but now our clients understand that this shouldn’t be an add-on; their purpose and their commitment to society or the environment has to be aligned with their core business.
There is a long-standing debate around purpose vs. profit, but increasingly we are seeing that the two can go hand in hand, as opposed to being at odds. Employees, consumers and investors are all becoming increasingly conscious, as we move towards a more socially responsible model of capitalism, which ultimately benefits all stakeholders.
Who is it for and how do people get involved – where do most of your clients find you?
We offer our services to all kinds of organisations, across all sectors and industries. Our clients range from individual philanthropists and small start-ups to large NGOs and FTSE 100 companies. We can develop small workshops or launch international campaigns – it all depends on who the client is and what they need!
People usually come to us through our various networks or referrals. We are three co-founders and come from different professional backgrounds, so we each bring our own distinct contacts and experience from the corporate sector, the political sphere and the world of non-profits and advocacy.
We also target prospective clients through marketing; speaking at industry events, writing thought leadership pieces, moderating panels and conducting workshops.
How did you 3 meet?
Lewis and I worked together at a global communications agency, Finsbury, and when Lewis introduced me to Barry, who at that time was working as Director of Advocacy for Malala Fund, we realised that we were very much aligned in our vision and values, and decided to combine our expertise and set up a business together.
What motivated you to start Purpose Union?
Seeing where society and the business world currently stand motivated us to create Purpose Union.
Working in my previous agencies it was all about working on large financial transactions, helping clients to deliver significant shareholder returns or justifying excessive management remuneration – I just felt this was not a sustainable or ethical way to run a business.
An organisation’s value shouldn’t be limited to its management and shareholders when there is a whole universe of other people that should be taken into consideration – employees, customers, suppliers, and society as a whole. There are many stakeholders in a society, and in order for it to flourish, business has to benefit more than just the select few.
Over the last couple of years, we have seen the dial shift significantly on this issue, with commentary from influencers such as Larry Fink from BlackRock, The Business Roundtable in the US and the Financial Times – all setting a new agenda around purpose and voicing the importance of placing the good of society ahead of personal profit.
We have seen that the Milton Friedman model of capitalism is no longer working. And in today’s world where political leaders are not taking responsibility for massive social and environmental issues, populations are becoming increasingly disillusioned and polarised.
So it seems as though we are caught up in the perfect storm, and now is the time to bring society and business back together and remind people what really matters.
On a Global scale, how can we encourage this movement towards socially responsible capitalism, when countries, particularly some of those in the developing world, are playing by different sets of rules?
I think we have seen there has already been a big shift in places like the UK, the US and parts of Europe, but it ultimately depends on each market and how far advanced they are in this debate. Obviously some countries in the developing world will take longer to get to where we are now, but I think important conversations around socially responsible capitalism are starting to happen in many parts of Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.
What have been some of your career highlights?
I would say setting up offices for agencies across the Middle East and Latin America was a major highlight. I lived in Dubai for 3 years and built up a team of around 10 people across the region. I then spent a number of years in Colombia and Mexico, doing the same – opening offices, hiring teams and building the business. It was an amazing opportunity to work with international clients such as Mars and Citi, whilst experiencing life abroad.
Setting up Purpose Union has of course also been a huge career highlight for me. I feel so passionate about the work we do – helping companies to be purpose-driven is incredibly rewarding. It has also allowed me to align my personal and professional beliefs and has brought a lot more congruency to my life.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
There are so many! I think it’s really important to work for and with people you respect and get on well with. If you don’t get this mix right, it can be an incredibly demotivating and toxic environment in which to work.
Also, don’t try to do it all! Do what you’re good at and passionate about, and delegate the rest. And, most importantly, find what makes you excited to get up in the morning. There’s nothing worse than dreading work every day!
Do you have any mottos that you live by?
Be true to yourself – don’t constantly compare yourself to others or try to be someone else. Just be who you are and live how you want – and the rest will fall into place.
Who are your role models?
I have so many at the moment! There are a lot of strong women taking a stand on important issues, which I find incredibly inspiring and motivating.
We have been working a lot recently with youth movements – it’s fantastic to see activism start at such a young age, and I am always impressed by how much people like Greta and Malala have achieved.
On the political stage, I admire AOC in the US for her truth and honesty. And in the business world, I follow the founders of The Allbright in London – Anna Jones and Debbie Wosskow. I think they are really championing opportunities for women, especially in business – 40% of their members are now entrepreneurs.
I also recently discovered an initiative by a non-profit called The Female Lead. Their research shows how important role models are in helping young women define what they want in life and enables them to lead happier, healthier, more successful lives. Social media is having a huge impact on younger generations, which can be quite negative when they are scrolling through images of people like the Kardashians, leading to low self-esteem, isolation and mental health issues. This project encourages different kinds of role models who provide greater sources of inspiration.
How has what you do changed you as a person?
I’m more fulfilled and much happier, which has in turn helped me to be more successful, because I’m doing something that I really care about.
What’s your vision for the future personally and professionally?
Professionally, I hope we can keep going from strength to strength as a business – continue to build our team, work with new clients on different issues, and keep challenging ourselves with what we can achieve.
We’ve had so many great experiences over the last year, and worked on some fascinating campaigns including health, education, social mobility, diversity and climate change. So, I hope we can do more of the same and keep getting bigger and better!
In terms of personal goals, I hope to carry on learning and being fulfilled with what I do every day!
When working on your passion it can be difficult to put on the breaks and easy to burn out. How do you prevent this, and manage anxiety and stress?
I have experienced burn-out before, but I found it was primarily because my work wasn’t aligned with my own purpose so I was facing obstacles on a daily basis. Constantly swimming against the tide can leave you feeling drained, both physically but also emotionally, being so invested in what you’re trying to achieve.
With Purpose Union, my professional and personal values and purpose are totally aligned. And working with two amazing co-founders who are as passionate about what we do as I am makes life much easier! We all share the workload and help to keep each other grounded and balanced.
Any books or blogs on your recommended reading list?
I actually have about ten books on my bedside table at the moment! But I highly recommend Purpose by Jessica Huie, Invisible Women by Caroline Criado-Perez and How to Fail by Elizabeth Day – whose podcasts I am also obsessed with.
What do you love most about X and Why?
I love the atmosphere of purpose – there is a genuine motive behind all of the organisations here. There are great events and whenever you speak to someone in the space, they’re always doing something interesting and impact driven.