Mike Davis Founder of Purposeful

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Mike is the Founding Director of Purposeful, a social impact advisory that empowers businesses to form stronger community connections and embark on social impact programs, strategies and initiatives.

Purposeful specialise in assisting businesses to tell their social impact stories in a way that promotes genuine community connection and enables organisations to elevate performance, culture, teamwork and employee engagement.

Mike has a strong health and social policy background and has been providing strategic consulting services to not-for-profit, social enterprise and business clients alike since 2014. He has previously worked as a senior advisor to government and as a policy coordinator for major health organisations.

Mike is heavily involved in the community, serving as a Board Member of the Awesome Foundation, he is a Foundation Member of SIMNA Ltd and serves on the Quality & Services Review Committee at Jewish Care Victoria. He is a regular presenter and facilitator at business and community functions.

Beyond Purposeful, Mike is a coffee and chilli lover who enjoys cooking ‘low n’ slow’ Texas BBQ on weekends. He’s also a mad AFL fan, and he recently embarked on a well-being research trip to Bhutan.

Tell me a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?

Since my last semester at University, I’ve been curious about how business can be a driver and catalyst of positive social change.

After working with a number of organisations from Government to small business and not for profits, I realised that in order to solve societies most complex and intractable issues, a whole of system effort is needed, involving all relevant stakeholders at the table.

Importantly, business was generally not present in driving social change and solving societal issues. I also felt that corporate social responsibility did not answer the call to action in the right way. CSR was too reactive and did not provoke authentic and purpose-driven action or results.

The ideas behind purpose are about activating social change through positive and intentional efforts, motivated by authentic and considered reasons. Authentic improvements to internal strategy through the purpose lens could drive better performance and also contribute to solving societal issues.

I also felt that there was a clear action-intention gap for most businesses. I believed that if I could champion these ideas in the right way and provide a framework and service for action that this would take place.

Please explain your business model

We provide advice and consulting services to organisations that wish to become more purpose-driven or socially and environmentally impactful.

This will often involve a combination of strategic advice, social impact program scoping and development and implementation of workplace giving and volunteering programs, social impact storytelling, measurement and reporting.

We will help business to locate, connect and align with suited not for profit and social enterprise partners and causes in a manner that meets the needs of both parties.

We also help organisations that already have a social impact program, partnership, donation or volunteering program, to report on and communicate their impact in an engaging way.

What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next year?

We are about to announce a partnership with TANK, a purpose-driven marketing agency and fellow B Corp to produce the “Humans of Purpose” podcast.

This involves Mike sitting down with inspiring social entrepreneurs, change makers and purpose-driven individuals on a fortnightly basis, to discuss their inspiring work, lifestyle, purpose and goals. Relaxed conversations take place over tea on Mike’s ergonomically friendly bean bags at his home in Elsternwick.
We are also piloting our social impact cycle approach to organisational positive social change with a mid-tier law firm and growing business consulting firm. We are also very excited to be presenting at August’s Digital Poets Society breakfast in March on purpose-driven business.


Tell me how you make your ideas happen?

As a very lean, learning organisation, we pride ourselves on the ability to listen and actively respond to emerging opportunities. We are keen to test, stretch ourselves and explore new and emerging ideas and opportunities. We know that some will work and some will not, but we will grow from all our experiences.

When I get an idea or someone suggests it, I’ll often spitball it with a few different people, including Aira (our super intern), my wife and some colleagues at Dimension5. I may run it past our advisory board or friends with relevant knowledge to seek their opinion before I make any decisions or take further action.

Having some clear values and a strategic plan, I will make sure to see how it aligns with these and our purpose before making any key decisions. The diversity of opinion and mission clarity are key for us to be able to make the right decisions and to have a robust process.

So far much of our activity has been organic and evolved from our environment and social connections. We have been lucky enough to win a scholarship at Dimension5 co-working space that has led to making some great friends, mentors, partners in collaboration and clients.

Being part of the B Corp and SIMNA community has also led to a range of opportunities to engage in the purpose-driven activity and social impact related activity. Having a diverse and vibrant advisory board aka “our sages” has also helped steer us in the right direction and pilot new ideas and approaches.

What role have mentors played in your business life?

Up until now most of my mentors have been family members and friends, playing a valuable support role and giving me the courage to grow Purposeful and test my ideas.

These mentors have helped me to have the confidence to test my business ideas, hypothesis and innovative approaches. They have also given me important reality checks about how to balance risk with innovation and hard work with relaxation and lifestyle.

This year I was lucky enough to have informal mentoring from an experienced CEO, working alongside me at Dimension5. This has allowed me to regularly test my logic and be sure that I’m making informed decisions that are in the best interests of Purposeful. This has also allowed me to plan our growth effectively and learn from his diverse experiences.

Having a strong advisory board is also like having an experienced and diverse team of mentors, regularly giving me the best advice possible to grow Purposeful. Their wisdom has proved invaluable in making Purposeful a success so far.

What does your typical day look like?

A good day always starts with a good coffee and a few inspiring TED talks or podcasts to get me up and running. I particularly love podcasts about positive psychology, productivity and wellbeing. Then I’ll take some time to mentally plan for the busy day of meetings I have for that day and any upcoming deadlines.

I’ll settle into my workstation at Dimension5 chat to my neighbours and map out key points that outcomes I hope to achieve from the day and meetings as well as any key follow-up actions.

Then the rollercoaster begins and other than a short break for a sandwich at 12, I’m usually busy in meetings until 4 or 5. I’ll try to allocate some time between these meetings to do some writing and some blog/podcast work.

After that, I’ll either attend KX Pilates or the various indoor soccer competitions I’m involved in and then get some takeaway dinner and fire off any relevant follow-up emails before relaxing in front of some Netflix or Youtube. I usually tune out to some documentaries, where I’ll learn about a new topic but also be sufficiently relaxed into a pre-sleep state!


What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business in Australia?

A big challenge for us was to stay confident in our service offering, given that it was a fairly new approach that required a strong focus on thought leadership at inception and until now.

We have had to stay focussed on getting the ideas right and then finding business, not the panicked reverse situations that many startups find themselves in. This was only made possible, by resolving to stay calm and focused on creating and delivery a quality service.

Another challenge has been understanding and defining our core market and clients, especially given the range of services we offer and the fact that the value cuts across a range of traditional service areas such as marketing, policy, HR, strategy, consulting, communications, writing etc.

What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?

The most important thing in any business is choosing the right problem to work on. To quote Albert Einstein: “If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it”

You need to carefully select what problem you wish to solve and clearly articulate why, how and with what. Although this sounds simple, it takes great discipline and getting the idea and process right will set you on the early path to success.

What companies do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia at the moment?

I love Bellroy’s innovative approach to organisational design, leadership and product development. I met for a coffee earlier this year with their Director of Flourishing, whose job it is to create a flourishing culture that ensures well-being and growth for all employees. Like us, they are also strong supporters of the Effective Altruism movement and believers in measuring social impact.

I am an admirer of Social Ventures Australia and the work that they are doing across the social impact space, ranging from social investment to social impact bonds and impact investment strategy. They have embraced highly innovative approaches to measuring social return on investment and social impact measurement. This is of great value to those creating social value in Australia.

I’m also a big fan of Cube Group, a public value consultancy who work closely with government and not for profits. They have a strong focus on working on projects that have a strong community connection and social impact for vulnerable groups. Their unique focus on bringing multiple stakeholders together to create public value is exciting and a great paradigm shift toward collaborative growth and achievement.

What about internationally?

Overseas, I am a close follower of Patagonia given their firm commitment to sustainability and social and environmental monitoring and harm reduction. They are also a pioneering B Corp in this area and the first Californian B Corp.

I also like to follow the work of Ideas 42, a behavioural science consultancy. The work they are doing in designing social impact solutions that are easily trackable and communicable is really important.

I’m also heavily influenced by Whole Foods Market in the US and their pioneering approach to conscious capitalism, strongly focused on creating value by investing heavily in its own people, mission, community connection, purpose and social impact.

What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?

Business can be a driving force for positive social change. This is because it is so central to all our lives and has a great capital to push toward change. Business has an opportunity to contribute to solving some of our most challenging social, ethical, medical and environmental problems.

It can do so by connecting with and supporting social causes. This has a double benefit – it is great for the causes but is also great for the performance of the business and the wellbeing of its people.

Is there a particular charity or social enterprise you support?

Purposeful supports GiveDirectly through monthly payments to Effective Altruism Australia. This provides direct cash transfers to poor families in Kenya so that they are empowered to improve their life.

We chose GiveDirectly because this allows us to have a clear understanding of our own social impact and also because it is an evidence-based measure backed by multiple randomised controlled trials, demonstrating its effectiveness.

Name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers.

theconversation.com – A must for anyone who likes robust analysis of relevant issues by academic experts.

Marginalrevolution.com – Tyler Cowen is an American economist and blogger, who posts some excellent content on obscure topics and economic news from all around the world

Qz.com (Quartz) – An excellent blog and accumulation of interesting issues and stories from around the world

Name 3 Australians we should follow on Twitter.

Rohan Connolly @rohan_connolly – I love his football and life banter that is literally straight from the brain to the keyboard, with minimal filtering in between

Pip McDonald @developmepip – I met Pip recently and just love the way she sees problems and navigates them, we are also passionate about similar social causes

Carol Schwartz @cazzmelbourne – Carol seems to be across everything all at once and provides great content and links to research on workplace diversity, women’s rights, professional development and wellbeing

Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea?

We welcome interns with skills in the environment, statistical analysis, sustainability, research methods, consulting and corporate social responsibility. We are also happy to explore partnership ideas.

We’re aiming to build a community of Australian idea makers helping each other. If you could have one question answered about startups, marketing, social media, accounting, monetization, product development etc. What would it be?

Startups, Business Development, Sustainability, Purpose, Social Impact.

What’s your favourite restaurant?

Uncle – Vietnamese restaurant in East St.Kilda (Carlisle St), their Pho is first class and love the outdoor seated area, the perfect place to connect with friends, especially in summer.


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