“We become like that on which our hearts are fixed. …We are gods in the chrysalis.”

Elbert Hubbard

Two weeks ago I wrote about understanding your vision for social impact very well to avoid unintended negative impacts as much as possible.

The definition of Social Impact that I tend to use most often is derived from Social Enterprise UK:

“the effect of an activity on the social fabric of the community and wellbeing of individuals and families”

Social Enterprise UK
© missbobbit / iStock
© missbobbit / iStock

Ok, it doesn’t include specific reference to the environment, but we can definitely include environmental effects of an activity in this definition.

It is easy to conduct a workshop with stakeholders that you have identified in the most rigorous way possible to determine what the vision or goal for your organisation or project might be. Having defined your stakeholders there is always the risk that such workshops or processes become simply an echo chamber for the kinds of views that you want to hear, rather than the reality of the world outside. As I mentioned in my post two weeks ago, well intentioned acts can have unintended negative consequences, such as an algorithm to determine student grades with the bias of its creators built into it that exacerbates inequality of access.

So when developing your concepts around social impact for your organisation, your vision for your project, think carefully on these two things:

  1. Is this really what our stakeholders need, or is this what we believe they need? No matter how well intentioned your intervention is, if it isn’t really what a community or a set of stakeholders need, it will have limited impact at best. Make sure that you are really listening to and engaging with those people who would benefit from your intervention. It is very rare that someone knows what’s best for someone else.
  2. Is this organisation really the best to deliver what the stakeholders need? You may have identified a need (note: ‘need’ not ‘gap’) and believe that it is something that your organisation could address. But in all honesty, can your organisation do it, or should you look at partnerships with other organisations, or handing the opportunity on to someone else?

If the answer to these two question is indeed ‘yes’ then great, go for it! If there is even just pause for doubt, think again and consider whether you have properly identified the social impact needed and how your organisation aligns to the needs of your stakeholders.

How have you gone about determining your social impact? Is it really what you want to deliver, or what your stakeholders need you to deliver?


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