Putting corporate purpose into action: there's nothing artificial about AI's power to do good

by Emma Cox Head of Purpose and Sustainability and Climate Change

Email +44 (0)20 7213 8150

As a partner at PwC working three days a week, I know having a clear focus is crucial. Every minute quite literally counts. While financial performance is important to me, so too is the desire to make a positive difference.

The two go hand in hand.  A failing business delivers no future good to anyone, whereas a thriving business can employ people, invest in infrastructure, pay more tax and so on.

But I want to feel my contribution goes further still, and I know I’m not alone.  Countless surveys point to people increasingly wanting to do ‘purposeful’ work for employers with strong values and ethics.

I feel very fortunate to have spent the last 5 years in work that I believe lives and breathes this, as leader of PwC’s UK Sustainability and Climate Change practice.  It’s about helping businesses think more about their social and environmental impact alongside their economic impact and financial performance, so they build it into their strategy and decision making.

Now as head of Purpose, I’m looking at how every part of the business delivers the firm’s  Purpose - to build trust in society and solve important problems - and helping our people think more about the role they each play in doing this.

This week I’m joining people from across PwC at the AI for Good global summit in Geneva, which looks for ways to use artificial intelligence to deliver the United Nation’s sustainable development goals (SDGs).

It couldn’t be more aligned to our Purpose.  AI undoubtedly has the potential to help address some of society’s biggest problems, but unless it’s used responsibly it also has the potential to create them.  Indeed our research suggests 67% of CEOs think that AI and automation will have a negative impact on stakeholder trust in their industry over the next 5 years.

The summit involves experts pitching and assessing AI strategies that tackle major societal issues including achieving universal health coverage and delivering aid for natural disasters. But it’s also about how to take a responsible approach whenever technology is used to ensure the best outcome for all stakeholders is considered.  One of the main workstreams is about building trust in AI - an area we’ve done a lot of work, through our Responsible AI framework. Ultimately responsibility for building trust in AI can’t just sit with those building technologies, but with all those using them as well.

Even without its link to our Purpose, I’m sure we’d have wanted to be involved in the summit, given the way technology runs through the core of our business and how we advise clients.  But our Purpose gives more impetus to our involvement - underlining the need for clear linkage between technology and positive societal impact. So having been a founder sponsor at the inaugural AI for Good conference last year, we leapt at the opportunity to continue to play a key founder sponsor role this year and see how we could contribute our thinking.   For me, that’s a business’ purpose working in exactly the way it should.

It’s fantastic that a number of businesses are at the summit this year, helping to connect AI innovators with decision makers. Moreover, the goal is to use thinking generated at this summit to launch practical, impactful projects that can be implemented in the coming months.  Little more could instil a sense of Purpose.

Do follow what’s happening at #AIforGood - and follow our experts   @robmccargow and @CHerweijer who are both joining panels.

by Emma Cox Head of Purpose and Sustainability and Climate Change

Email +44 (0)20 7213 8150