Thought Leadership at ESSEC Asia-Pacific: Purpose and Business Ecosystems


Purpose. Every company seems to have one in mind, but only few get it right. The old notion of “profit as purpose” has been swapped for a healthy ambition — creating a positive impact for employees and the wider community beyond the organisation. But, often times, while implementing purpose, corporations fail to look outward — toward the customers and stakeholders — while mainly limiting themselves by being inwardly-focused or generic while communicating their message.

So, what can companies do to become purposeful? A daunting challenge stands in their way, for purpose beyond profit requires transformation in the ways organizations do business with the outside world and demands a change in mindset to explore wider perspectives which involve a diverse community of stakeholders. This is where Prof. Jan Ondrus, Associate Dean of Faculty at ESSEC Business School, Singapore Asia-Pacific, and his fellow colleagues believe business ecosystem orchestration can step in to help.

Two (or more) heads are better than one. It helps to organise and coordinate a community of diverse stakeholders, or a business ecosystem, from outside the boundaries of organizations to join hands to co-create value and achieve real social impact. Stakeholders are not limited to suppliers, customers and competitors, and can include those having related objectives, aligned goals or complementary resources. By joining forces, stakeholders can pool resources, share knowledge or jointly develop solutions – not independently but interdependently.

However, there is an important caveat to this collaboration. Be sure to choose stakeholders carefully. Companies that choose to build a limitless network of stakeholders risk disrupting the balance of who exactly owns and drives the purpose. Divergence of goals, reluctance to cooperate, absence of complementarity between resources, and introduction of challenges caused by geographical separation between the company and its stakeholders cause value creation to lose spark and fizzle out.

Nevertheless, intelligent orchestration of a business ecosystem provides opportunities for all its diverse players, especially if the stakeholders’ individual purposes can be broken down into goals and aligned in order to drive co-creation. As such, through co-creation, each stakeholder naturally inherits some of the value produced, a piece of the social impact the corporate purpose intended. Prof. Ondrus believes that ecosystem orchestration enables corporations to assess stakeholders in co-creation opportunities, align wider purpose to co-exist with profit, and break down the high ambitions of a broad purpose into actionable steps. Thereby making corporate purpose no longer seem elusive.



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