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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 18 January 2019

What the founder of TOMS, ancient Greeks and Muslim inventors have in common

A purpose-driven mindset can transform your business for the better

A sunrise takeoff from Dusseldorf, Germany. Abbas Ibn Firnas, a renowned Muslim inventor, first attempted human flight in the year 875, spurred by a strong sense of purpose. AFP
A sunrise takeoff from Dusseldorf, Germany. Abbas Ibn Firnas, a renowned Muslim inventor, first attempted human flight in the year 875, spurred by a strong sense of purpose. AFP

For thousands of years, the concept of one’s life’s purpose has been discussed in culture and philosophy. In Islam, the first word revealed from Allah upon Prophet Mohammed was Iqra’, or read, emphasising the importance of pursuing learning and knowledge in our daily lives. Long before that, Greek philosophers, such as Aristotle, have also sought to shed light on life’s purpose and often questioned what we are meant to do on this earth.

If we think about it, many Muslim inventors, for example, have worked with a sense of community purpose hundreds of years ago, before this became something that entrepreneurs aspire to nowadays. They invented things that we take for granted today such as algebra, optics, and the flying machine. As they went about inventing, they did so with the goal to better the livelihood of humanity, and not for their sole benefit.

Today, many entrepreneurs are adopting this purpose-driven mindset. Dubai based Arab-American entrepreneur Sahar Wehbeh is a good example. Her doll-making business, Dumye, founded in 2013, is built on the model of buy-one and we will donate one. Dumye is all about giving back to the community. The dolls are manufactured by underprivileged women in North India, who through their work are provided with a chance to better their livelihoods. And with every doll purchased, a doll is gifted to an orphan or another child.

TOMS is another example of a successful international business with a strong sense of purpose. Founded in 2006 by American entrepreneur Blake Mycoskie, the footwear and sunglasses brand is dedicated to improving lives. Through customers’ purchases, TOMS help provide shoes, water, prescription glasses and bullying prevention services in over 70 countries worldwide.

Emirati artpreneur Noor Shamma, started the Postcard Initiative in 2015. It all began when she was frustrated with how she was constantly glued to her phone, and she longed for the old school way of communication. She announced on her Instagram that she would send a postcard to those who were interested. Shortly after, she received hundreds of addresses from people worldwide. This tempted her to start her Postcard Initiative. Noor now sells stacks of postcards with illustrations by artists from around the world with 20 per cent of profits donated to Noor Dubai Foundation, a non-governmental, non-profit organization with the goal to eliminate blindness everywhere. By doing so, Noor is not only supporting a charity, but also empowering artists worldwide by showcasing their work.

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These are all powerful examples of entrepreneurs who incorporated purpose into their business mission, and who developed business plans with the stakeholders - the community - in mind.

When your business has a strong sense of purpose that is clearly communicated, the benefits will begin to multiply, beginning with your customers. A study by Cone/Porter Novelli reveals that 79 per cent of Americans are more loyal to purpose-driven brands and 67 per cent of them feel that purpose-driven brands care more about them and their families versus other traditional brands. The study also revealed how 78 per cent of Americans would endorse and tell their peers to purchase from purpose-driven brands.

Here are some ways you can take today to incorporate higher purpose in your business or organisation:

Define your purpose

Work with your team to set and declare a higher purpose that is serving your community. A survey by Deloitte revealed how purpose-driven organisations have higher employee engagement. This should be publicly stated and your corporate culture should revolve around it. Embrace your purpose. Make sure it’s highlighted everywhere: in your email signatures, in your company’s reception, newsletters, website and even plastered in your pantry. Assign some employees as your brand ambassadors, who can communicate your business’s goal to the community.

Learn from non-profits

Non-profits provide a great learning opportunity and you can get a front row seat by serving on the board of a non-profit or by setting a meeting with a non-profit leader you admire to see how you can learn from their approach. Examine the way they set their strategy and how they are involved in the communities they serve.

Ask your clients to participate in your purpose

If your brand serves a community or a cause - whether by building schools, helping refugees or donating clothes - chances are, many of your customers would love to take part. It would also provide them with an up-close and personal connection to your brand, to learn more about your work and communicate back to their social circles.

When it comes to developing your business, and setting its purpose, it wouldn’t hurt to think like the Greeks and early Muslim inventors.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur, who manages her marketing and communications firm in Abu Dhabi

Updated: January 12, 2019 02:16 PM

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