It was interesting to attend the event last month at the IBM Forum on “Smarter Impact in International Development” for which Business Fights Poverty was a supporting partner.
Whilst good to hear about new developments in this field, especially around the power of social media, mobile technology and IT to get to a new kind of impact assessment dynamic, it left me a bit worried. Will the private sector get absorbed by this discussion and end up in a quagmire of impact measurement methodologies that the development community has tried to tackle for decades (with no clear answers or tangible results so far!)? Surely we all want, and need, to “demonstrate” that investments in all kinds of initiatives do achieve tangible results and impact for the people they are intended for. I would argue, for a start, let’s ask them directly about what they consider ‘impact’ and ‘progress’ instead of coming up ourselves with top-down indicators and measurements.
I think businesses should stick to what we do best: base our decisions on management accounts that inform strategic and operational levels, hence improve impact not only in the short, but long term. Our contribution to the impact debate should be around how we progress in coming up with more holistic management accounts that truly embrace the triple bottom line. It is by no means enough to just focus on the financial performance for a business nowadays. And more CR reporting alongside the usual P&L and Balance Sheets is not the answer for me at all.
Actually, we should look much more seriously into Environmental-Economic-Social Accounting –EES methodologies to give a true reflection of overall impact of a business. Accounts would reflect both the negative and positive impacts associated with doing business and allow for disaggregation according to localities & people involved, product lines, types of impact, where along supply chain impacts do occur etc. etc..
There could be a great link to the area of life cycle sustainability assessments – LCSA, as in the end, in business, it is all about products & services and these should be produced and consumed in a much more sustainable way. LCSA combines in one go integrated decision-making on the triple bottom line of sustainable development: people, planet and profit.
As we all know in business, there are always ‘trade-offs’ among the sustainability criteria and better assessments & accounting practices would definitely help to make those trade-offs more transparent and communicable. And support better decisions for achieving sustainability!
I do know that all this is a contentious field as there are many intrinsic values in social & environmental areas that can’t necessarily be reflected with a monetary value. Plus, unlike in financial accounting, there aren’t yet any international standards so probably very difficult to compare performance between companies and/or countries.
Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to explore and progress on this front. It would provide food-for-thought from the private sector about impact assessment in international development.