Defining Your Social Purpose with Mary Ellen Schaafsma – 001

by | Dec 2, 2019 | Podcast

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What an amazing way to start off the podcast! I’m so thankful for my guest on this episode and the great thoughts she shared about how they’re helping businesses find their social purpose. We talk about defining social purpose, why there’s a business case for it, how to find your social purpose, and so much more.

About Mary Ellen Schaafsma

Mary Ellen is the Director of the Social Purpose Institute (SPI) and United Way of the Lower Mainland. She is dedicated to fostering Social Purpose in businesses with the goal of Social Purpose becoming the ‘new normal’ in business. As Director of the SPI, she helps companies define, articulate, embed and activate on their own unique social purpose so they benefit from having a societal reason for being at their core while creating tangible community benefits. Mary Ellen has been a strategic leader in social services, the non-profit sector, and health care systems and research for 25 years. She has a Master in Health Administration from the University of Ottawa and a Certificate in Social Innovation from SFU.

Find Mary Ellen:


Email: maryellens(at)socialpurpose(dot)ca

Find the Social Purpose Institute:



Everything We Talked About:

[1:45] Mary Ellen’s background and history into nonprofit work and social purpose

[4:35] How she finds ideas to follow and pursue, particularly in the case of the Social Purpose Institute which was a colleagues idea.

[5:06] Reference to Coro Strandberg, sustainability and social purpose coach

[6:04] Services provided by the Social Purpose Institute, workshops, training, and more

[9:12] How Mary Ellen defines social purpose.

[11:12] What was the process like starting the Social Purpose Institute?

[14:35] The difference between CSR and social purpose

[15:45] How the mindset change can still happen within larger organizations.

[17:56] The process of implementing and starting this social purpose journey

  • 1 – Research the company, history, values etc.
  • 2 – Stakeholder consultations, all of them
  • 3 – Applying social issue frameworks
  • [21:18] Reference to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the United Nations
  • 4 – Finding the intersection between business insight/expertise and social issues

[24:29] The implementation process for using your social purpose

  • 1 – Look at business practices, policies, services and assessing how they align
  • 2 – Looking where they don’t align or gaps and deciding a plan
  • 3 – Look at employees, are they on board?
  • 4 – Deciding how to communicate it publicly

[29:06] Example of two printing companies with surprisingly different social purposes

[31:54] How do we bring social purpose initiatives to our superiors in an organization?

[32:52] Reasons that social purpose is actually beneficial to the business

  • The labour market is shrinking, turnover costs, and retaining top talent
  • Customer retention and creating customer ambassadors

Resources from Social Purpose Institute: 

[39:31] What’s next for Social Purpose Institute, expansion into other United Way locations

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