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 2020.

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 to a reconceptualization of the corporation around its purposes. The Future of the Corporation programme represents the most comprehensive attempt to date to provide this reconceptualization. Our research suggests a need to develop a new framework for the corporation around three interconnected principles:

Future of the Corporation


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 600 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 three major publications:

  • Reforming business for the 21st century: a framework for the future of the corporation What this report seeks to do is draw together the substantial body of knowledge and insights that the thirteen research projects provide on the current challenges that confront businesses, governments and societies around the world. While setting out key principles for the future of the corporation, the report is primarily diagnostic in identifying the nature and source of the problems rather than prescriptive in proposing detailed policy recommendations. These will be the focus of phase two of the research programme, which will start in 2019.
  • 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 32 academics from around the world, working in 13 research groups to examine ten themes: 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 - have attracted significant interest from the business community, academics and policy-makers.  Reports and briefings arising from these events are available on this site.  Upcoming events are publicised through our newsletter (register details here)

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

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