What is social impact, and is that what we're doing?

Photo by  Ross Findon  on  Unsplash

Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash

If you do a Google search, you'll find a number of definitions of social impact, all that are fairly similar. My favorite is this simple one from Communities Channel Scotland:

[Social impact] is often understood as the effects on people and communities that happen as a result of an action, activity, project, programme or policy. A common way to think about social impact is to consider it as the change that happens for/to people as a result of an action or activity.

This list, compiled by the Center for Social Impact Strategy, includes thoughts from 6 practitioners about their understanding of social impact, all slightly different.

But once you understand social impact as the positive changes that occur in a group of people as a result of your businesses actions or activities, you have to ask yourself:

Are we really working toward social impact?

There are two simple images I like to use to test my own attempts at describing the social impact of a business I'm working with.

For services and products that are most focused on individual-level change, I reference it with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. If my social impact statements don't show up on the hierarchy, I may not yet be naming social impact. 

Maslows Hierarchy.png

For services and products that are most focused on community-level change, I reference it with the Gross National Happiness 9 domains "flower." 

Gross National Happiness 9 Domains, from  http://gnhusa.org/gross-national-happiness/

Gross National Happiness 9 Domains, from http://gnhusa.org/gross-national-happiness/

Do a little exercise with me. Pull out a piece of paper, and write out which of Maslow's needs you think your product or service meets. Do the same with the GNH domains.

If you look at the hierarchy or the flower and don't see your social impact in any of these categories, you may not be working toward social impact - and you're not alone. You may have focused on "activities" (the number of things you do) or "outputs" (the number of individuals who receive a product or service) rather than impact.

But your outputs may actually relate to one or more of these needs and you might just need to dig deeper to get there. One way to do this is to use the "So What" activity (see below for simple instructions).

Now put it into action: In your next team meeting, listen for discussion of the social impact you're seeking to create. Are you and your team describing activities and outputs, or are you describing impacts (something on the needs hierarchy)? Help your team re-focus their eyes on the ultimate impact you're seeking to create, not just on the low-hanging fruit of outputs and activities.

If you know you need to improve upon your social impact goals, but you aren't quite sure how to get there, you can always sign up for a free consult where I can help you figure out how to get started.

So What Activity

  1. Find someone to help you find your bottom-line "So What" and ideally, to take notes.
  2. Say the "social impact" statement that you'd like to go deeper on.
  3. The listener asks "So What" or "So That" and writes down your answer.
  4. The listener continues asking "So What" until you've gotten to the deepest level of why what you're doing is so important.
  5. Repeat if you have multiple social impact statements.
  6. Edit and finalize your social impact statement(s).

If you're still not quite satisfied, book a free consult so I can help you get un-stuck.