Expert Essays: Mission critical

7 Apr 2021

In this collection of blog posts, we are featuring experts and influencers we work with to support our student learning and development.

Andy Peers, CEO at The Longleigh Foundation explores the importance of mission and values for social entrepreneurs

I don’t believe there are any two topics more important in the development of a project or social enterprise than that of mission and values. Even through the incredibly strange and challenging times that the coronavirus pandemic has presented – and is likely to keep presenting for some time to come – I am evermore unwavering in the belief that having a defined social mission and values, and keeping it at the core of all you do, will help you focus in on what it is you exist to do so you can remain present and resilient for the communities you are here to serve.

As the TED Talk speaker and author Simon Sinek says, ‘before the course of action, should come the cause of action’. Too true. And, how can this ever be more important than when that cause is about something so obviously more than profit’ – when, in the words of Margaret Mead, it’s about how a ‘group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world’.

A defined social mission is compelling and enduring, and having authentic and clear values act as that moral compass along the way.

It has been inspiring to speak to many social purpose organisations during the pandemic that, from the solid foundation of their ‘cause of action’, have demonstrated great courage in re-thinking their ‘course of action’ – in some cases, completely rewriting their whole model – so that they continue to engage with and reach people.

A defined social mission is amazing because it can bring together and then bond and unify what might otherwise be a disparate group of people. It sets the agenda – now and for the future – and, when openly talked about and lived, leaves little room for the damaging effects of egos in an environment that should be about service, not self-service.

In today’s world, as it should be, ‘it is what you do and the way that you do it’. This is what I love about having explicitly defined values that guide you in how you go about your worthwhile work. Many of us know that, all too often, it’s not the technical competency that can bring an organisation down, but the culture that prevails. In that perfect world, you wouldn’t be able to get a piece of paper between espoused values and culture and practiced/lived culture. But, where this gap is extremely evident, my experiences show me that what’s happening is that there are no defined values in place or that any defined values just aren’t known or talked about and so have no chance of being lived. And this is not about the scale or age of an endeavour – from the smallest or newest to the largest or oldest, the living of defined values can create an amazing culture and the absence of this can create a toxic environment.

A defined social mission is compelling and enduring and having authentic and clear values acts as that moral compass along the way. As the African proverb says, ‘if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together’. Your social mission and values are worthy of time in being created and then time in being lived – they will help you go far because they help you go together.

Andy Peers is a regular contributor to our Lloyds Bank and Bank of Scotland Social Entrepreneurs programmes.