Written by Celine Goslinga, Student at University of Glasgow
I was thrilled to attend Blueprint in Action. I study Business and Geography at the University of Glasgow and have a particular interest in corporate responsibility, as I aspire to work in developmental aid, perhaps through the private sector. I thought it would be very valuable to gain inspiration from the application of tangible examples out in the real world. In Action. Yet still, as I boarded the night coach from Glasgow to London, a flash of nerves struck me. Me, a first year student, off to a big city, to sit in on a professional conference where I don’t know anyone and where everyone would probably be older and wiser than me. I took a breath and said to myself: ‘Relax. Just observe. Orientate. Get inspired.’ And that reminded me of what interested me about Blueprint in the first place. A Blueprint for Better Business encourages business stakeholders to ‘operate to a purpose that serves society’. I imagined the conference would be a chance for people from a range of disciplines and business scenes to unite and explore experiences of putting their purpose into practice – precisely the kind of replenishment I was seeking in my education.
As I registered for the conference, I grinned proudly at the personal name badge I was given, but gulped when I received the list of attendees’ names and occupations. There was one student amongst all the CEOs, chairs and directors. I sat down at an empty table in the conference hall, but soon enough the seats around me filled up and chatter erupted as everyone introduced themselves.
Charles Wookey, CEO of Blueprint, opened the conference officially with a warm welcome. He raised the opening question of that day: how can you help others realise their full potential? Then he introduced Sacha Romanovitch, CEO of Grant Thornton UK. Sacha spoke of the challenge that business leaders today are facing in their endeavours to be purpose driven rather than profit driven. As I understand it, she suggested that by serving society business leaders can unleash the potential (for purpose) in their company that is already there. Just like Michelangelo spotting David in a rock, she said. In this manner businesses can begin to stop viewing purpose and profit as opposed.
On that note we went into a break, and I was involved a conversation about the implications and advantages of the holistic approach Sacha was describing. One of the men tried to apply the inspiration he gained to his own work. As we were called back into the conference hall, I noted that maybe this was my scene after all. Even though I was surrounded by people that were indeed older and wiser than me, certainly they were there to observe, orientate and get inspired as well.
Many interesting, and challenging, discussion topics were touched on. It came up that society as a whole appears to be judging corporate business as greedy and selfish. However, as Sacha noted, if you ask business leaders what they are most proud of in their work, it’s almost never a numerical expression of profit. But the good intentions that business leaders might have for society don’t always come across, and establishing a separate ‘purpose department’ doesn’t quite solve this problem either: ‘uniting corporate purpose and personal values to serve society’ shouldn’t be a distraction or a fluffy project on the side, but rather a tool for growth and improvement. All in all, it remained apparent that implementing the Blueprint method is/can be a wicked challenge.
In my business classes it’s among the first principles that trade should make everyone better off. Business contributes to society by creating jobs, opportunities and communities. In my geography classes, I was taught just as quickly about practices of corruption and inequality around the world.
And here I was, in one room with all these important people, who were there solely to do good and spread the wealth. And as a student, the most exhilarating element of attending was to watch the ladies and gentlemen around me, going the extra mile and proving that business can and does contribute to society in a very positive way if it is genuine, trustworthy and has integrity.