We live in an age of constant innovation—and while change may often be accepted as a fact of life, innovation doesn’t just happen. It must be fostered and nurtured in business, culture and society. Desjardins and University of Toronto Entrepreneurship (UTE) recently hosted a discussion at UTE’s Myhal Centre for Engineering Innovation & Entrepreneurship, moderated by Glory Professional’s Lance Chung with a panel of business leaders and founders to discuss how entrepreneurs can navigate and adapt during challenging times. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to thriving in adversity, the panel agreed that the core to any solution is ensuring companies and the people who work for them are driven by purpose.
“It’s different than it was 25 years ago, when success mainly relied on access to capital. Now, financial institutions see how they can partner better and help businesses grow in scale, to help them connect with people they might not have access to,” says Guy Cormier, President and CEO of Desjardins. “If you have a strong purpose and a solution to fix something that is broken, there is an opportunity.”
Employees need that purpose now more than ever, Cormier shared. It provides better alignment with their company which leads to more personal engagement, motivation and creativity. For organizations like Desjardins, it can help them create a better workplace culture, retain the best people, and do good for the world.
Achieving purpose can mean different things to different people but the panel agreed the right mindset includes being unwilling to compromise in the belief that better is possible. In other words, entrepreneurs need to find their own path by being unreasonable.
“Unreasonable is not the same as nuts. You must have a plan, adapt, find mentors,” says Rocco Rossi, CEO of the Ontario Chamber of Commerce. “[In] building the right team, what is becoming clear in our aging society is the increasing war for talent going forward.”
Compounding the aging workforce is a desire from younger people to work for brands that align with their values. Desjardins, recognized as one of Canada’s top employers, is bringing together hundreds of young people in their upcoming Dream the Impossible event. Conceptualized by Guy Cormier, after speaking with youth across the country to understand their anxieties about the future, the free event aims to bring young Canadians together to discuss issues that are the most important to them: education, employment, finances and the environment.
“To get to that [unreasonable] place, you must have the courage to make mistakes. It can be learned,” says Joella Almeida, CEO and co-founder of MedEssist, a company working to ease the ongoing Canadian healthcare crisis with sustainable software solutions.
Sustainability is a term that may be used when companies are looking to remain competitive. But it isn’t just a buzzword—in the era of climate change, sustainability means fundamentally rethinking traditional supply chains and resource allocation. Sustainability in business is a clear driver of purpose.
“We don’t have time anymore. Sustainability isn’t just a nice-to-have; it is critical that we embed it into our business models,” says Nuha Siddiqui, co-founder and CEO of erthos, a start-up striving to make plant-powered plastics the new normal. “Politics, religion, individual views don’t matter – climate change impacts us all […] companies have to truly add societal value.”
Companies can commit to ideas and sustainability, but ultimately, the key to executing these strategies is understanding the most basic and important aspect of why businesses exist: to serve people. A diverse and inclusive workforce is key to fostering purpose. “There is no difference between community and the business community,” says Rossi. “We must end the notion that diversity and inclusion is simply a social justice issue. It is an economic imperative to leverage every single individual.”
Challenging the status quo, sustainability, and a diverse and adaptive workforce are the primary ways companies can use purpose to create better financial results. And while finding investors in today’s strained market can be difficult, demonstrating a commitment to purpose can help.
Showing fiscal restraint is especially important during economic uncertainty, which is why Cormier suggests that entrepreneurs ensure any investor they work with is aligned with their vision and committed to helping the company scale up, not just get it off the ground.
“Some of the best companies are born in a recession,” adds Almeida. “Companies born in recession are disciplined in using capital efficiently.”
Universally, the panelists acknowledged the need for entrepreneurs to take risks and pave their own path. “Opportunities can be rare. Don’t be scared to challenge the status quo,” says Siddiqui. “The time is now.”