Social Impact going mainstream

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Social Impact going mainstream

Written by Rebecca Cain | 3rd February 2020

What are the challenges and opportunities to integrate social impact and social value into mainstream thinking? This was a central theme of the 2019 annual Social Value Matters Conference in Taipei; the first time this leading event for the social impact sector has taken place in Asia.

My colleague and Think Impact Director, Kevin Robbie and I were thrilled to be able to attend. Hosted by Social Value International (SVI), the conference is an important opportunity to bring together a broad mix of professionals working in social impact measurement and management to share, discuss and debate best practice.

Kevin and I were each invited to present on two panels to share tangible examples of our work in the field of social impact in Australia.

I presented on The role of Government in Building the Impact Economy Lessons from around the world, and a second panel on Social Value in Public Sector Infrastructure Projects.

Kevin shared his insights and expertise on social impact funding mechanisms through a panel exploring Impact-Led Funding followed by a session on Public Policy for Social Value Creation.

Jo Nicholson from Social Value Aotearoa, Awerangi Tamihere from Te Whānau o Waipareira and Rebecca Cain from Think Impact

While it’s difficult to summarise such a rich and extensive program, the following outlines some of the highlights and key take-aways that Kevin and I experienced.

1. New Zealand and Taiwan are ‘Going Mainstream’

The theme of the conference was ‘Going Mainstream’, and New Zealand and Taiwan win the prize for demonstrating that social impact management and measurement is indeed being embraced in mainstream thinking, commitment and action.

One of the highlights of the conference program was hearing from Audrey Tang, Taiwan’s Digital Minister, about using technology for greater transparency and civic involvement in governance. You can read more about these initiatives here.

Another inspirational highlight was the work presented by Awerangi Tamihere from Te Whānau o Waipareira. The Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency has established a commissioning for outcomes approach with the aim of improving the lives of the Māori families and communities they support. They have developed a shared outcomes framework that defines the long-term outcomes they are collectively working towards with delivery organisations. The outcomes framework and now a 'managing to outcomes' program has been embedded across 82 partners in an approach that targets long-term outcomes and measures what matters.

2. Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) featured in almost every presentation at the conference, making it clear that the SDGs are driving thinking about how to improve and communicate impact. The take-away for me was reinforcing that the SGDs were developed to focus effort on reducing inequality and addressing underserved geographic areas and segments of the population. A lot of organisations are using the SDGs to guide their thinking about global priorities, but they shouldn’t claim to be contributing to the SDGs unless they are addressing the underserved.

Getting updated on the Impact Management Project

3. Impact management project

The holy grail in social impact is finding consensus on what we even mean by social impact and good practice for measuring and managing impact. The Impact Management Project (IMP) has made some promising progress since its establishment in 2016.

Initiated by impact investment leaders Bridges Fund Management, IMP convenes a community of over 2,000 organisations to share best practice and find consensus on technical topics. IMP aims to provide principles, conceptual frameworks, standards and metrics for ESG and impact management.

I attended a pre-conference training session with Jeremy Nicholls, formerly CEO of Social Value UK and Social Value International and currently an IMP Consultant, along with Ceci Passanha, Practice and SDGs Lead at IMP.

While their work is ongoing, there are some useful resources that have already emerged from this initiative, including the ABC of impact (Act to avoid harm, Benefit stakeholders or Contribute to solutions) and the 5 dimensions of impact (who, what, how much, contribution, risk).

4. A profession in the making

One of the impressive things about the SVI conferences is how accessible and affordable they are. They provide the opportunity for people who are new to or interested in social impact to learn from the most experienced people in the field. One of the most inspiring elements of the conference was conversations with these new practitioners, keen to find out how they can contribute and potentially build their career in the social impact space. The challenge for the established profession is to support people to upskill and ensure that social impact measurement and management is meaningful and credible as it expands.

I committed to writing a blog with advice to help aspiring practitioners to get started, so stay tuned for that!

5. Find your tribe

For those of us working hard and investing a lot of ourselves to create the change we want to see, connecting with like-minded people is a great way to recharge your energy levels and ideas, and find ways to support each other. The conference has left me with a renewed commitment to find ways to contribute as much as I can to creating social value and building the community of practitioners.

Get yourself to a conference if you’re in need of some inspiration and camaraderie!

6. Visit Taiwan!

On another personal note, I highly recommend travelling to Taipei. While it was a whirlwind visit, I did get the chance for some classic Taiwan experiences, like trying stinky tofu at Raohe Night Market and wandering the shops and restaurants in the old streets of Jiufen. Almost 60 per cent of the country is covered by beautiful woodlands, while the Taipei metro makes it easy to navigate the city and the Taiwanese people are super friendly and polite.

And it’s a hot bed of social value activity, with many of the applications for SROI report assurance and accredited practitioner status being submitted by practitioners based in Taiwan.