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  • Writer's pictureCarolyn Butler-Madden

How This Business Went From "Having a Purpose" to being driven by a Social Purpose

Over the last few weeks we've discussed what it means for a business to have a purpose, along with the main differences between the two types of 'purpose' that exist within the business world.

Today we'll be taking a look at a particular case study where a well known brand took a step beyond their existing purpose and sought to make authentic impact through a social purpose, ultimately using their business as a force for good.

The following is an excerpt from Carolyn Butler- Madden's upcoming book- 'For Love and Money'...


In 2016, the world changed.

Donald Trump became President of the USA.

In January 2017 President Trump signed an Executive Order that banned foreign nationals from seven mainly Muslim countries from visiting the country. He suspended entry to the country of all Syrian refugees indefinitely, and he prohibited any other refugees from coming into the country for 120 days.

For many immigrants in the US, especially Muslims, it was a moment of fear. For some immigrant Americans, this action by the President created legitimacy around the idea of ‘us’ and ‘them’. For Muslims, this one act placed a giant question mark around their sense of security and belonging in the US.

That was 27th January and Airbnb had an expensive ad slot booked for Superbowl on 6th February 2017.

For an organisation whose purpose was to help people feel like they could belong anywhere, Trump’s act presented Airbnb with their moment of truth. Their Superbowl slot gave them an opportunity to say something meaningful in response to Trump’s order. Not just to talk about how their products helped people to feel like they belonged when they travelled, but to share what they stood for and in doing so, to stand with some of those who were starting to wonder if they belonged in this new United States of America.

Whatever ad Airbnb had developed for Superbowl was pulled. The story goes that over three days and nights, an internal team at Airbnb pulled a new ad together in-house, expressing their purpose and in doing so, creating a statement of solidarity with immigrants, refugees and the LGBTQIA+ community.

The ad featured still frame close-up images of people’s faces. Different racial features; each new face transitioning onto the previous one. Music accompanied the ad along with written words shown, not spoken, which said “We believe no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love or who you worship, we all belong. The world is more beautiful

the more we accept. #weaccept.”

Alongside the ad, Airbnb undertook a goal to provide short-term housing to 100,000 “people in need” over the subsequent five years. They highlighted this goal in a written statement and also acknowledged “the painful truth that guests on Airbnb have experienced discrimination, something that is the very opposite of our values. We know we have work

to do and are dedicated to achieving greater acceptance in our community.”

Other actions Airbnb took included:

- A commitment to contribute $4 million over four years to the International Rescue Committee to support the critical needs of displaced populations globally.

- New terms of service that integrated non-discrimination rules for Airbnb hosts.

It was a powerful statement of solidarity for the many people who had felt at some point in their lives that they didn’t belong.

For Love and Money will be released in October. Sign up for the latest updates here.


Airbnb’s story is a great example of the evolution of Purpose. Instead of simply thinking about their Purpose in terms of how their product enabled people to feel like they could "belong" wherever they travelled, they asked themselves a provocative question -

Who doesn’t feel like they belong and how might we help them?

In exploring that question, Airbnb were able to access the true potential of their higher purpose.

If you're after more case studies of brands using their business as a force for good, be sure to check our database packed with more examples like this.

You can also sign up for our weekly newsletter, where we share the latest on all things purpose, social impact and tips on how to get your business on a Path to Purpose.

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