The Future of the Corporation project aims to contribute to bringing about a paradigm shift that redefines business in the 21st century and builds trust between business and society.

Business is a global force contributing to the development and prosperity of our society. But is the corporation adequately equipped and structured to deal with the challenges of our future? How can it make our society better, and more prosperous for everyone? The Future of the Corporation programme is engaging a range of business, government, policy, civil society and academic stakeholders to examine a range of the most challenging questions facing business.

The British Academy hosts the programme. It is a non-political, independent institution that brings academics together across the disciplines of economics, business studies, psychology, political science, law, philosophy and history. The Academy is uniquely able to access the knowledge of these disciplines and convene business people with all the stakeholders interested in the future of business. The programme is privately funded and will run until the end of 2021.

What is the Future of the Corporation?

Corporations were originally established with clear public purposes. It is only over the last half century that corporate purpose has come to be equated solely with profit. This has been damaging for corporations’ role in society, trust in business and the impact that business has had on the environment, inequality and social cohesion. In addition, globalisation and technological advances are exacerbating problems of regulatory lag.

Together these issues are intensifying the need for a reconceptualization of the corporation around its purposes. The Future of the Corporation programme, one of the British Academy’s longest running and most significant policy programmes, explores the role of business in society. The programme builds on a long tradition of championing the remarkable growth, prosperity and poverty alleviation that business has generated on the back of its creativity, entrepreneurship and innovation.  Building on a 2018 report, its 2019 report set out eight principles for purposeful business creating a framework that supports a new notion of the purpose of business: “to profitably solve the problems of people and planet, and not to profit from creating problems”.

Profitably solving the problems of people and planet, and not profiting from creating problems

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the programme is publishing its third and final report, Policy and Practice for Purposeful Business.  If our first report focused on the case for business based on clear purposes, trustworthiness and ethical cultures and the second report set out the principles behind this notion, the third report takes on the ‘how’: How can government, regulators, investors and business itself change the way business works to put purpose at its heart?

Principles for purposeful business


Having set out this framework, the focus of the programme is on catalysing changes to business practice, policy and education to use the principles of clearly defined purposes, commitments to trustworthiness and enabling cultures to realise the potential of business.


The programme has three elements:

  1. Research and evidence: we have worked with 32 academics to produce 13 research papers that examine the issues facing business in the 21st century. We will produce further evidence and analysis to underpin a set of recommendations that emerge from the research.
  2. Engagement: since the beginning of 2017, the programme has engaged around more than 2,000 academics, business leaders and policy makers in key questions facing business. The engagement feeds into the research and shapes the findings and outputs.
  3. Partnership: the programme is working with a wide range of academic institutions, businesses, civil society organisations and think tanks to ensure that this programme is a collaborative effort. We are keen to hear from institutions that would like to be involved.


The programme has produced a series of major publications:

  • Policy and Practice for Purposeful Business This report elaborates substantially on each of the principles for purposeful business, describing policy and practice mechanisms to support the shift which is already under way in business and investment communities. It also expands on the case for these changes by exploring the potential benefits of a supportive environment for purposeful business, in terms of the big policy challenges we face – net zero and biodiversity loss, economic and social recovery from COVID, inequality, social exclusion and regional disparities, and technological innovations that enhance the future of work.
  • Principles for purposeful business: How to deliver the framework for the Future of the Corporation This report picks apart the notion of corporation purpose, focusing on the definition of purpose as ‘profitably solving the problems of people and planet and not profiting from creating problems’. It suggests a set of eight interconnected principles focused on purpose, to replace the current model of business policy and practice which are primarily or entirely focused on financial goals. These principles cover law, regulation, ownership, governance, measurement, performance, finance and investment. The report explains how each principle would work and is supported by further evidence in the form of four new research papers and a series of 15 roundtables that convened leaders and experts from business, finance, and civil society.
  • Reforming business for the 21st century: a framework for the future of the corporation This report draws together the substantial body of knowledge and insights that our research projects provide on the current challenges that confront businesses, governments and societies around the world. The report identifies the nature and source of the problems facing business and highlights the notion of purpose, complemented by trustworthiness and cultures of values as the focus for a framework for the corporation that can meet these challenges
  • Future of the Corporation Research Papers : 13 groups of academics were commissioned by the British Academy Future of the Corporation programme to conduct research into the ten themes identified by the programme as critical to the future relationship between business and society. The resulting research papers are published in the Journal of the British Academy alongside an editorial paper from Professor Colin Mayer CBE FBA, the programme's Academic Lead.
  • The Voice of Business The ‘Voice of Business’ is a collection of views from senior business leaders on the purpose of business, its role in society, and the challenges they face from disruptive change. It captures the views of sixteen leaders of companies of different types and sizes in a range of sectors, including artificial intelligence, banking, construction, energy, media and retail. It was written by Lucy Parker, partner at Brunswick Group.

Quick facts:

The programme has worked with 40 academics from around the world, producing 17 research papers that examined the themes of the programme: history, trust, corporate purpose, corporate culture, technology, corporate governance, long-term investment, ownership, law, taxation and regulation, and social benefit. The resulting research papers, published in full are available through the Journal of the British Academy.

A wider group of 70 academics and practitioners have been engaged throughout in the review and discussion of the research as it developed.

The Corporate Advisory Group, consisting of 30 business leaders, has met quarterly since the beginning of 2017 and contributes its expertise and advice to ensure a live connection with business that grounds the research in real-world challenges.

A series of breakfast briefings and events – 12 since the start of 2017 – has attracted significant interest from the business community, academics and policy-makers. Major annual events have attracted senior politicians, media and business leaders – in 2018, then Secretary of State, Rt Hon Greg Clark MP gave the keynote; in 2019, Lionel Barber, then editor of the FT gave the keynote. In 2020, top chief executives, senior MPs and civil society leaders joined Mark Carney, former Governor of the Bank of England, in our opening Purpose Summit. Reports and briefings arising from these events are available on this site.  Upcoming events are publicised through our newsletter (register details here)

More information:

For more information on the project, contact Henry Richards on h.richards@thebritishacademy.ac.uk or 020 7969 5263, or Professor Colin Mayer, Academic Lead, on colin.mayer@sbs.ox.ac.uk.

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