Lab Fellowship Session One: Purpose

In January, we kicked off our unique programme for financial innovators with a social or environmental mission by holding a business strategy master class on purpose. This is the first of a series of blogs documenting the progress of Lab Fellowship and sharing resources and tools for financial innovations that serve people and planet.

Last month, our Fellows, the Lab team and experts from the Lab community came together for session one of Lab Fellowship 2019. Led by our Head of Programmes, Marloes Nicholls, the session was designed to support Fellows to build their understanding of the context in which they’re working to create positive change, and to gain clarity about their business purpose and the importance of it in driving all of their business decisions.


Grasping the context you’re innovating in to create change is vital – it enables you to better understand the problems you want to tackle and how change can occur. This year’s Fellows are united by their pioneering use of data in finance. So, to support them to understand the finance and data contexts they are operating in, we explored the Lab’s view of finance and learnt about data systems from an expert partner.

At the Lab, we view finance as a human system and utilise the tools of systems thinking to understand and navigate it. We’ll be visiting this again in future sessions, drawing on the analysis of finance presented in our Strategy for Systems Change.

We were joined by Jared Keller and Peter Wells from The Open Data Institute, who provided Fellows with a fantastic primer on data ecosystems and explained the issues any responsible innovator working with data needs to consider. They provided an introduction to data rights and ethics, for which they have developed lots of publicly available resources, including the Mapping data ecosystems guide. Jared and Peter encouraged us to think of data like roads: just as roads help us to navigate to a location, data helps us navigate to a decision and, like roads, data is most useful and powerful when connected to other data. In light of this, they argued that organisations’ data infrastructures, like roads, are a network that must be strategically planned to keep people safe and healthy. You can view their full presentation here.


Since we launched the programme in 2016, purpose has been the first topic we teach, and with good reason: it distinguishes innovations with the potential to transform finance from those that merely replicate the status quo. Since the Fellowship curriculum is designed to help participants embed purpose in their product, business strategy and leadership, it’s really important for us to work with Fellows to define, refine and strengthen their business purpose from the get-go.

To inspire our Fellows, we heard from Lab Senior Fellow, Bruce Davis, about his journey co-founding and leading Abundance Investment (the UK’s first FCA-regulated crowdfunding platform). Bruce explained how his team have embedded the purpose of Abundance – to democratise finance so that everyone can use their money for good – throughout the business, and how this has been essential for their success. We heard how Abundance’s purpose acts as an internal compass that guides and motivates the team’s work and helps them to make decisions to stay on track. He warned Fellows that it will feel like there’s constantly a smoother path to take, and that the path of an innovator challenging the status quo will be littered with mines.

With ample food for thought from Bruce, the Fellows tried describing their own business purpose using the Purpose Mapping Canvas – a tool the Lab has developed to help innovators define their purpose. The questions on the canvas are drawn from the Lab’s experience supporting innovators to develop theories of change that are rooted in systems thinking and map the multiple, interconnected influences on change. The Canvas deliberately separates how change happens in the world from your contribution to that change – which, ultimately, is your purpose.

No-one creates systems change on their own. While vision describes the future state that an innovator would like to see, purpose defines the innovator’s role and contribution to getting there. To take the Lab as an example, our vision is a financial system that serves people and planet, but we’re not trying to build it ourselves (after all, there are only five of us!). Rather, our purpose is to incubate the ideas and people with the potential to transform the system. We also find the Japanese concept of Ikigai useful to illustrate how purpose differs from vision.

“Where your talents and the needs of the world cross; there lies your vocation.” – Aristotle

Our Fellows have made a great start at mapping their purpose, which is always an iterative process, and continue to work with the Canvas and to test their draft purpose statements with one another and other stakeholders. Could you use the Canvas too? We’re keen to hear your thoughts on the tool, including how we might improve it! 

Stay tuned for insights from session two on Systemic Design, and keep following #LabFellowship on Twitter for news and updates from our Fellows!

Find out more about the Fellows we are supporting this year here. Learn more about the Fellowship programme and how to get involved here. To discuss the Purpose Mapping Canvas, email Marloes.