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The Impact Navigator: Our Purpose

Why and for whom do we exist? (Sphere 1)

A toast to freedom was all it took for two students in dictatorial Portugal of 1961 to be imprisoned for seven years. A sidenote in a British newspaper about the students, shocked Peter Benenson so much, that he decided to do something about it. He initiated an international campaign against arbitrary arrest and political imprisonment, which later became Amnesty International. Peter had found his purpose and rallied generations of supporters behind the purpose. Those passionate supporters made Amnesty one of the most influential organisations in the world.  

In for-purpose organisations, the purpose is like the north star. The entire organisation is geared towards its direction. The purpose expresses the passion, anger, and love of founders like Peter Benenson. If the purpose of an organisation is alive, it is carried forward by this passion and attracts people who burn for the same cause.  

Our vision and target group (Element 1.1)

Often the purpose is declared in vision and mission statements. A vision statement is a picture of the desired future, while a mission statement is what we intend to do to achieve this vision. The organisational vision and mission have an expiry date of around 7-10 years, following which, organisations typically enter an intensive process to re-examine these statements. Several organisations also have a tagline – these few words can describe succinctly what the organisation is about.

Here are a few inspiring examples of visions and taglines:    


  • Martin Luther King: His vision was freedom.

  • Greenpeace's purpose is to ensure the ability of the earth to nurture life in all its diversity.

  • Amnesty International’s vision is of a world in which every person enjoys all the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments.

  • Nelson Mandela’s and Archbishop Desmund Tutu’s vision for South Africa: We are a rainbow nation – which means different colours of skin, but all are equal like the colours of the rainbow.

  • Wikipedia: "Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That's what we're doing."

  • Microsoft: A computer on every desk and in every household – quote by Bill Gates in 1980.

  • Coca-Cola’s purpose: Refresh the world. Make a difference. 

  • John. F. Kennedy said in 1962: We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard. This was a huge vision for the Western world during the time of the Cold War and it was accomplished on 20th July 1969.

  • Starbucks' current vision is to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighbourhood at a time.

Closely connected to our purpose is usually a specific target group, which the organisation seeks to support, empower, or bring on the right path. Examples could be the extremely poor, differently abled, young women, civil society activists or refugees. For advocacy groups, target groups could also be elected representatives, government officials, private sector.  

Just like commercial actors, for-purpose organisations nowadays define their target groups more precisely to have a better focus on their needs or their rights. Sometimes, a focus on a narrow target group helps you to design better initiatives, services, or products, or to better engage with your target audiences. 

If you work for a for-profit business, you may now say, hold on, we also have a purpose and a target group. And it is true, there is a trend among businesses to give purpose a larger space in their organisation. However, in most businesses, profit remains the overriding element. For example, the purpose of Coca-Cola “Refresh the world. Make a difference.” is defined to match their business model, not the other way around. If Coca-Cola had aimed at the noble goal of refreshing the world, it may not have chosen to sell an overpriced sugary drink. Instead, Coca-Cola would choose to do something entirely different.

Strategy (Element 1.2)

Strategy comes from the Greek word “strategia” which is a military term describing the "art of troop leaders or generals”. It is a general plan to achieve one or more long-term goals under conditions of uncertainty. Such plans in war situations are ultimately about making smart choices and setting good priorities. Organisational strategy is quite similar, and it is ultimately about making choices. The strategy expert Jeroen de Flander sums it up as follows:

You cannot be everything to everyone. If you decide to go north, you cannot go south at the same time.

Key questions in strategies are:

  • What are we going to do?

  • In which direction do we want to move?

  • Where is our focus, and what are our priorities?

  • What is it we do not want to do?

Characteristics of strategies: 

  • In the for-purpose world, strategy is a roadmap towards achieving your purpose and can encompass strategic choices within each element of the organisational design, for example, choices about the target groups or how we want to create impact. It also includes choices on the type of initiatives, the organisational culture, or resource mobilization. 

  • Typically, organisational strategies define a small number of strategic projects or shifts that will be instrumental in moving the organisation in a specific direction. 

  • Strategies have an average time range of 3 years, but some organisations even go up to 5 years, while others usually more agile organisations have annual strategies.

  • Strategies must be based on an analysis of the context and a possible future, and an assessment of the organisation.

  • Most for-purpose organisations would engage with partners, target groups and staff members when planning strategies, and sometimes also with their donors.  


Exercise questions on purpose and strategy:

  1. Invite participants to explore the vision of their organisation. How old is it? Who created it? Does it still have energy and power? 

  2. Compare the taglines of a few organisations you like. How do they resonate with you?

  3. Describe an actual person you met that you would consider to be a representative of your target group. 

  4. Explore your organizational strategy: What are the priorities of the current strategy and how are they implemented? Does the strategy connect to the purpose?



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