Why I Quit Corporate Life To Solve The World’s Biggest Problems

Brambles is a global supply-chain logistics company that employs over 14,000 people worldwide…. 

Two years ago I was the youngest Senior Director of this company in the APAC region, but today I’ve given up that dream to pursue something a little closer to my heart - my social purpose

The short story? I’ve created a corporate giving solution called Purposed, with the sole mission of combining the power of a large group of corporate individuals to solve the greatest problems of our time.

What got me focused on my social purpose?

There was a time I was very content with my work at Brambles. They are a fantastic company, and one I maintain a huge amount of respect for. But there was something missing...

It took an internal social initiative to trigger exactly what that was for me.

Our CEO at the time acknowledged that Brambles needed to supplement its strong environmental sustainability reputation with an improved community investment program. So they pledged to make holistic corporate giving (donations, general volunteering, skilled volunteering, and giving of product) an organisational priority. 

To kick things off, Brambles signed up to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and set ambitious targets for corporate giving. However, it quickly became obvious that setting these targets was the easy part. Delivering on them would be the challenge.

Even though my day job was focused on defining technology strategies for the larger back office functions of Finance, HR and Procurement, I found myself in a position trying to enable the under resourced Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) department on this new program.

At first I was excited about getting involved with this initiative… but I soon discovered that our (me, you, any corporation) ability to make a difference to the world’s biggest problems was severely limited.

Why we can’t make a difference in the world with the current approach

Unknowingly, this was an initiative I had been waiting 11 years to participate in.

Over a decade ago I lost my Dad to cancer. Following this life changing event, I wanted to help other families avoid the same hardship my family and I did. It was a lofty aspiration, but I genuinely wanted to put an end to cancer. But I had no idea where to start. I felt helpless. 

To start with, I Googled charities that were focused on giving related to the treatment, management and psychological acceptance of cancer. There were literally thousands of options. Which one of these would have the biggest impact? Where should I invest my money?

Even though the choice was overwhelming, I eventually chose three charities that I felt were worth investing my time and money in. It was something, a start at least.

Six months later each of those charities gave me a call… Did they want to let me know about the project my gift had gone towards? Was there some big breakthrough that my money had contributed to?

No - nothing like that. They simply wanted more money.

I was left deflated and disillusioned. I had no idea what impact my contribution was making, and despite having the best of intentions, I was left feeling that it was just all too hard to make a difference. 

Unfortunately this is an all too common story. There are millions of people out there driven by similar personal experiences and affected in much the same way as I am. It didn’t take me long to realise that everyone had an emotional connection to a certain cause. Whether it be the environment, animal welfare, developing countries, equality or terminal illness - like it was for me.  However, bridging the gap between intent and action was holding back solutions to the most pressing problems of our time.  

This quickly became my obsession.

Trying to find a better way to solve these problems

What I learnt from my personal experience above, and the time I worked with the CSR team at Brambles, was that despite the best intentions, individual charities are trying to solve the world’s biggest challenges without the capacity or capability to do so. And on the flip side, corporates acknowledge that they play a vital role in supporting these causes, and they have the capacity to give, but it’s just too hard to share their resources effectively.

It became clear to me that there was a huge opportunity in front of us. If we could unleash the powerful resources (people, money, goods and services) that are locked away in big corporations, and enable MORE and BETTER giving at scale, it could result in a systemic shift.

Maybe, just maybe, if we unlock this untapped corporate power we could solve the most pressing problems of our time.

How do we enable MORE and BETTER giving at scale?

It’s a very valid question, and one I didn’t know the answer to initially.

I partnered with the CSR team at Brambles to meet with a number of large corporates who were heavily involved in the corporate community and investment space - ASX listed companies, big banks and consulting firms. We wanted to find out how people were trying to tackle this giant issue already.

To our surprise, these big corporates were more than happy to share their “secret sauce” to corporate giving. No NDA’s, and no tightly guarded strategies. Everyone we spoke to wanted to share their ideas in an attempt to improve practices around corporate philanthropy and ultimately promote a better world.

Literally everything was on the table:

  • How to secure sponsorship from the top
  • Strategies for more effective corporate giving
  • Partnerships with not for profits
  • Tactics to activate, embed and sustain the program in-house
  • How to extract greater corporate and shareholder value

There was one common theme coming through from all of these discussions. These programs are extremely resource intensive, and while there are several technology platforms on the market (for donations, some for volunteering, some for giving product), there is no holistic solution for the giving of funds, time, skills and product. Nothing enables employee involvement whilst still providing appropriate reporting on shareholder value for these programs. 

Backing up this research is the Giving Australia 2016 initiative that has a section solely focussed on innovation in business giving. While it acknowledges strategic thinking in this space has advanced, it emphasizes that large businesses are crying out for innovation in digital, reporting and collaboration, to truly unleash the power of corporate giving.

Without a doubt, there is a gap in the market for a fresh approach. Something that focuses on delivering an unparalleled user experience to make holistic giving easier, more meaningful and more impactful. Something to inspire a movement for more and better corporate giving, taking it from the exception to the norm.

So then, what am I going to do about it?

Armed with a very personal connection to solving the world’s problems, my technology background and corporate network, and a more recently established philanthropic aptitude and partnerships, I’ve hung up the suit and tie to roll up my sleeves and deliver on this purpose.

Purposed, a holistic corporate giving platform, is my vehicle.

Join our guest list of high profile experts spanning corporate, not for profit and philanthropy, on the 1st of February 2018 for what is now the largest corporate giving collaboration in the country’s history; Corporate Social Impact Challenge 2018.

Tom Ferrier