Kwasi Mitchell of Deloitte – embedding purpose into strategy

Chief Purpose Officer Kwasi Mitchell tells Business Chief how Deloitte US’s social impact investment sets a pioneering path for corporate purpose

When in 2020, Deloitte Chief Purpose Officer Kwasi Mitchell scribbled on a napkin while on a work trip plans to put out a multi-billion-dollar social impact investment, little did he know two years later he would be delivering just that.

“It’s nice to see that we were able to live up to that particular aspiration,” Kwasi tells Business Chief on a video call from his office in Washington DC.  

We are chatting the day after Deloitte US announced its powerful US$1.5bn social impact investment aimed at fostering a more equitable society, and Kwasi is beaming.

Not just because the financial commitment is significant, but because the vision and structure of this 10-year commitment institutionalises Deloitte’s approach to impact – something Kwasi believes sets a pioneering path for corporate purpose.

Deloitte delivering social impact is nothing new, says Kwasi, pointing to the firm’s 175-year history of strong impact. What is new with this commitment is that Deloitte has institutionalised purpose within its core strategy.

“We have laid out a systematic and consistent approach to how we engage and give back to our communities,” says Kwasi, who, as Deloitte’s first-ever Chief Purpose Officer, was instrumental in setting up the Purpose Office and has led the firm’s approach to purpose for the last two years. 

“It’s an approach now embedded into our business strategy, so it’s not leader dependent,” he explains. “It’s not an initiative solely of the CEO, nor of me as a representative who executes it… we have put an infrastructure in place that will outlive me and any other leaders.”

It’s a pioneering approach with intent, focus and vision, and one that Kwasi believes many organisations will likely follow in the future.

“We are hyper-focused on a smaller subset of investments rather than the ‘letting a thousand flowers bloom’ approach, and in doing so, we make sure we work with leaders who are more proximate to the issues we are trying to solve.”

In this way, Kwasi says Deloitte is stepping aside from its legacy within its consulting practice of “thinking great thoughts and trying to solve problems ourselves,” and instead working with the people directly who live in distinct communities who have experienced these challenges first-hand.

He points out that the power structure to solve the many challenges we face in society are different everywhere, and to drive change, it is crucial to work with people who are embedded in those power structures, or to give them access to become involved in those power structures.

It’s a refreshing approach, one that is not just focused but wholly collaborative, with Deloitte recognising that the systemic challenges society faces are not ones they can solve alone – nor any other single business or association.

“Deeply rooted inequities are larger than any single entity can take on alone,” Kwasi tells Business Chief. “If you think about the pillars we are focused on – education and workforce development, financial inclusion, and health equity – no organisation, even ourselves as the largest professional services firm, can solve these on our own.

“So, you have to be more collaborative, you have to participate in coalitions, and you have to invite people to join.”

Deloitte investment helps drive public and private sector action

The investment supports community-driven change by strengthening local efforts, bringing together key decision-makers, and facilitating collaboration to help drive collective action across the private and public sectors.

Kwasi points to Deloitte’s initial investment in OneTen – a coalition of some 70 employers committed to help hire, promote, and advance 1 million Black Americans without a four-year college degree into careers by 2030 – as a collaboration that can deliver wide-reaching impact.

“The investment in OneTen opens up repercussions far beyond the black communities we are trying to hire, and can roll out to Hispanic and LatinX communities, and also Caucasians who can’t afford to go to college,” explains Kwasi. “It’s a broader equity play that can deliver impact on a broad scale and in a variety of different marketplaces.”

It’s a similar story with Deloitte’s investment in The Black Economic Alliance Foundation, which works to harness the collective expertise and influence of Black business leaders to drive generational wealth-building for the Black community.

“We deliberately chose these organisations because the things we can do with them will cascade across other communities.”

Choosing organisations to partner with does mean turning down others though – something Kwasi finds a particular challenge in his role, particularly as a person passionate about giving back.

“The things we deal with as a purpose team are highly personal to a lot of people and having to craft a vision and a path forward that requires focus also requires us to say ‘no’ to some pretty worthy causes at times,” he explains.

“The biggest challenge for me has always been how to balance when we say ‘no’ on things that are incredibly worthy but not aligned to our strategy.

“As a leader, I’m a firm proponent that everybody is treated with kindness and respect and that everyone has a perspective worth listening to. Giving them time and energy to express that is important – it just doesn’t mean that it is core to our strategy.”

And being “on strategy” is crucial if we want to have the greatest and broadest impact, says Kwasi.

“This effort is all about building coalitions and collaborating. With this social impact investment, we focus on specific areas where we can apply this lineage everywhere and ultimately be in a position where we are truly an employer providing opportunities for the many – and particularly for the many who have been left behind.”

Find out more about Deloitte’s US$1.5bn social impact investment here, and don’t miss Business Chief’s interview with Kwasi Mitchell in the January 2023 issue, where Mitchell talks more about his role as Chief Purpose Officer, how his leadership skills have evolved, and challenges that businesses face when embedding purpose.

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