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Smith School of Business survey reveals Canadians have high expectations that businesses contribute meaningfully to solving the world’s most pressing challenges

Posted on January 30, 2023

Kingston, Ont. – Canadians have high expectations about the responsibility of business to help solve society’s most pressing social and ecological challenges – from climate change to racial injustice – according to the results of a new survey commissioned by Smith School of Business. The findings highlight the increasingly complex balancing act leaders now face between creating social impact and delivering profit to shareholders. Against this backdrop, Smith convened a panel of 15 Canadian business leaders to share their advice and ideas to stimulate further conversation on the way forward.

Among the most notable survey findings, Canadians now rank charities and businesses as equally responsible for solving societal problems, and, on average, say that a staggering 21 per cent of a company’s profits should be dedicated to finding solutions to these problems. Considering that Imagine Canada provides its Caring Company designation to organizations that invest just one per cent or more of their pre-tax profits back into the communities they serve, these findings underscore the challenges businesses face. Looking at the role of business leaders, 89 per cent of Canadians said it is important for the CEO of a company to voice their personal position on the most urgent problems facing the world.

“Business leaders are overwhelmingly expected to speak out and harness the resources of their companies to help solve the world’s biggest and most existential problems, and this shift is not one for which many CEOs are prepared,” says Wanda Costen, Dean of Smith School of Business. “This is one of the most significant changes in expectations in the last 50 years, and as a business school, it is imperative that our business management best practices evolve with these changes in both business and society.”

Other key findings from the survey of 1,120 Canadians include: 

  • 84 per cent of Canadians feel that businesses should do more than they do now to solve problems and help meet the needs of people.
  • 43 per cent of Canadians would reduce spending with a company if the company was inactive, neutral or silent on a social issue of importance to them.
  • 80 per cent of Canadians believe that when the CEO or leader of a business speaks out on an issue it is reflective of the views of the entire company.
  • 90 per cent of Canadians say it is more important to them that a business’s support for a cause or issue be authentic than the amount of money or other support the business provides.
  • When shown each of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, depending on the goal, 42 per cent to 80 per cent of Canadians feel that businesses should be responsible for helping achieve them.

During conversations with a panel of business leaders convened by Smith to discuss these results, the group shared their thoughts on the high expectations of Canadians, balancing social impact and profit, the role of the leader in speaking out on social issues and the importance of authenticity. While the group was diverse in their backgrounds, sectors and viewpoints, a consistent theme was that the high bar that has been set for business is here to stay, and the business community must adapt and develop new models that navigate these expectations.

“Business leadership can be a lonely place, and the decisions confronting those in the corner office have expanded to include issues once considered well outside the scope of business,” says Nancy Evans, Executive Director of Marketing & Communications at Smith School of Business. “By convening this conversation and sharing ideas for the way forward, we aim to help leaders find the points of intersection that will deliver both the profit shareholders demand and the social impact that society expects.”

The panel of business leaders assembled by Smith includes:  

  • Julian Barling, Professor of Organizational Behaviour and Borden Chair of Leadership, Smith School of Business
  • Christine Bergeron, President and CEO, Vancity Group
  • Tabatha Bull, President and CEO, Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB)
  • Wanda Costen, Dean, Smith School of Business
  • Mohamad Fakih, Founder and President, Paramount Fine Foods
  • Alvin Hew (BCom’86), Group Managing Director, Southgate Ventures and Independent Non-Executive Board Director, Maxis and Petronas
  • Rania Llewellyn, President and CEO, Laurentian Bank
  • Connie Lo (BCom'15, GDA‘15), Co-Founder, Three Ships Beauty
  • Bruce Lourie, President, Ivey Foundation
  • Colin Lynch (BCom’07), Managing Director and Head of Global Real Estate Investments at TD Asset Management and Co-Founder, Black Opportunity Fund
  • Mounir Nasri (MMIE’20), Co-Lead, Techfugees Canada
  • Bobbie Racette, Founder and CEO, VirtualGurus and askBetty
  • Meghan Roach (BCom’05), President & CEO, Roots Corp.
  • Jim Stanford, Economist and Director, Centre for Future Work
  • Hakeem Subair (MMIE’17), CEO, 1 Million Teachers

To read the full report, view interview clips with leaders, and access a discussion guide for leadership teams, visit

About the survey:

Research data is based on the results of a survey distributed by Proof Strategies between March 24 and 27, 2022, via an online panel, with incoming responses proportional to the population of Canada (based on Statistics Canada 2021 estimates) by age, gender and province. In total, there were 1,120 completed responses after adjusting for quality control. No margin of error can be associated with a non-probability survey, but for comparative purposes a probability sample of this size would have a margin of error of +/- three per cent with 95 per cent confidence.

About Smith School of Business:

Smith School of Business at Queen’s University is renowned for its excellence, innovation and leadership in business education. From establishing the first undergraduate business degree over a century ago to creating groundbreaking programs and courses in emerging areas, Smith is at the forefront of preparing students for the business marketplace. In addition to its rich tradition of academic and teaching excellence, Smith is known for delivering an outstanding learning and development experience. Personal attention, individual and team coaching, opportunities for specialization and a deep commitment to student success characterize the Smith experience.