On February 27th, Business Fights Poverty held a live written discussion to explore how we can measure, manage and get the most from our social impact. Given that this was one of our liveliest online discussions to date, with over two thousand attendees and 174 comments, writing a compact summary of the event may not do it justice.
On February 27th, Business Fights Poverty held a live written discussion to explore how we can measure, manage and get the most from our social impact. This article provides you with a vivid flavour of the panel members’ perspectives on some of the topics that were raised.
This was one of our liveliest online discussions to date, with over two thousand attendees and 174 comments. It was impossible to capture the abundance of the insights gained in a compact summary, so we hope you will visit the original discussion page to read the full event and continue to enrich the discussion with your own comments.
A full list of our expert panelists can be found at the bottom of this article.
What is the business case for measuring social impact?
Panellist Andrew Means highlighted that in order to construct a business case first we must define social impact. This should ideally include all aspects of impact - including negative and positive impacts, intended or unintended.
Participants agreed that social impact is relevant to every business: every product has impact so measuring and reporting is important and stakeholder feedback is key. Panellist Sinead Duffy condensed what many said during the discussion: “Business no longer has a choice… Shareholders, stakeholders and customers want companies to stand up on social impact and be visible”.
Panellists Careen Abb, Rabayl Mirza and others underlined the benefits of social impact to business, suggesting that linking a strong social impact strategy to value creation leads to a stronger business model. Additionally, panellist Dan Neale highlighted that regulation and legislation will increasingly force business to articulate its social impact. Businesses who take the initiative will be better prepared to engage with governments on the form this regulation takes, and in a better position to demonstrate compliance.
How can businesses measure and maximise their social impact?
Business Fights Poverty community member Aslak (Sam) Felin laid the gauntlet down before the LIVE portion of the discussion began – challenging us with the observation that to develop comparable social impact indicators and measurements, there needs to be a single agreed definition of “social value”. The panellists agreed that there is a need for measurement frameworks that allow for comparison of different companies’ performance. Andrew Means suggested that a bottom-up approach could be productive; as different sectors develop their own definitions of social value (which will vary across sectors, e.g. education or environment), areas of convergence could inform global standards in the future.
In the meantime, there is much we can do with the tools we currently have available to us. Our panellists referenced a number of areas of great work. Panellist, Maike von Heymann’s practical advice: “My experience has shown that it really pays off to invest in a robust baseline and M&E approach at the beginning so that it will be easier to collect and evaluate defined indicators when implementing a project”.
Others referenced the best in class examples of social impact measurement. Hannah Clayton, for example, pointed people towards the ‘Valuing Respect Initiative’ which is working on tools that measure meaningful outcomes for people, rather than utilising outputs (such as the number of people trained) as a proxy for social impact; Dan Neale suggested the ‘Corporate Human Rights Benchmark’ as an example of how to measure negative impact, and the World Benchmarking Alliance which is developing tools to map companies’ positive contribution to the SDGs. Several panellists mentioned the Impact Management Project’s work with business and investors to build consensus on global norms for impact measurement and management.
Where are the current gaps in social impact measurement, and possible solutions?
Panellist Daniel Fernandez Alvarez summarised two key challenges for businesses: how to aggregate the impact of seemingly unrelated propositions together and how can social impact be attributed? In addition there was agreement around the need for transparency and for companies to acknowledge their negative impacts. It was suggested that currently organisations which are transparent about their negative impact, run the risk of being greeted with hostility. Some suggested that raising the baseline for disclosure, widening the lens of impact from direct to indirect and acknowledging those making the effort to change would be useful. At the same time, it was also pointed out that developing regulation that requires disclosure (as opposed to reporting) should also help reduce glossy reporting and increase the use of simply good metrics. Take a look at what is said for deeper insight.
Another challenge is simply the time and money involved for businesses to assess, measure and report on their social impact. We have to find ways to maximise efficiencies, and create a positive feedback loop to encourage companies to invest more. Technology, as so often is the case, was suggested as a way to do this.
Other ideas offered by the panel included ‘increased coordination and collaboration,’ from Andrew Means, whilst Careen Abb suggested that it might be time for social impact reporting to “move from a communication plan (reporting) to a business plan (strategic planning).” Jen Faucon, a Business Fights Poverty network member, concluded: “… leverage a network of like-minded people for other suggestions and alternative perspectives. Very useful info today! Can’t wait to bring back these findings to our organization”.
We appreciate that much of this discussion is focused on measuring social impact at a large business level and invite your comments on how these themes apply to smaller businesses and social enterprises.
In conclusion, the matter of how to define, measure and manage our social impact is no longer an optional concern for business. Already, there are a large number of initiatives to help businesses move forward in understanding and articulating their impact, both positive and negative. This theme is a priority for Business Fights Poverty in 2020 and we welcome your ideas and insights on this important topic, to discuss opportunities contact [email protected].
With thanks to everyone who joined our panel of experts: