The Purpose Economy

South Australia has a unique opportunity to position itself as a leader in the Purpose Economy, building on its strong track record of social and economic innovation.

The Purpose Economy is the fastest growing jobs sector in South Australia and encompasses those business models and industries that seek to balance doing good and doing well.

Previously it was thought that you had to choose between being a charity on one end of a spectrum or a business with a single bottom line at the other end. Increasingly there is pressure on both ends of this spectrum, with businesses becoming more socially and environmentally conscious and many charities seeking to increase the amount of people who benefit from the good work that they do by developing more commercially viable business models. What’s left in the centre of this spectrum is a ‘messy middle’ we call the Purpose Economy.

The Purpose Economy can help to address the fact that, despite more than twenty-six years of uninterrupted economic growth in Australia, inequality, homelessness, and the number of people who cannot afford food are all rising or at record levels.

We need to get better at solving these types of problems and the Purpose Economy helps us to do this. Aaron Hurst says that the world is evolving from an information economy to an economy of Purpose. South Australia has a unique opportunity to position itself as a leader in this emerging Purpose Economy, building on its strong track record of social and economic innovation.

Our goal therefore, in focusing on the Purpose Economy, is to create a more robust economy that is able to achieve the highest levels of social, cultural, environmental and economic impact.

The Purpose Economy is an emergent concept that covers a number of complementary social, economic, environmental and cultural trends. It can be understood in three ways, by business model, by industry type or by the effect it has in our lives.

In terms of business model, we are seeking to support those organisations that fit on a spectrum ranging from social business, social enterprise, co-operatives, Indigenous business, for benefit corporations (B Corps) and shared value practising companies.



In terms of industry, we’re seeking to support the growth of the health, education, care, creative, cultural and community sectors. These are by far the biggest employers in South Australia – the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures showed that employment in this area increased by more than 13 per cent between 2012 and 2015.


Finally the Purpose Economy can also be understood by its impact on individual lives. Former Thinker in Residence Dr Vic Stretcher, challenged us to:

‘Imagine a drug that was shown to add years to your life, reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, cut your risk of Alzheimer’s disease by more than half, reduced hospital stays so much that it puts a dent in the national health care crisis, and helps you have better sex. Well there is something that can do this, and it’s not a drug, it’s Purpose and it’s free.’

Science now shows that each of these things is the outcome of a greater sense of Purpose in a person’s life. This has a profound impact on how we work, how we age, how companies recruit and retain talent.

We also highly recommend the following further reading:

  • Aaron Hurst, The Purpose Economy: How Your Desire for Impact Personal Growth and Community Is Changing the World, Elevate Publishing, 2014.
  • Vic Strecher, Life on Purpose: How Living for What Matters Most Changes Everything HarperCollins, 2016.