Every year it seems that social impact makes huge strides forwards! In thinking through the past twelve months and looking ahead the following trends have emerged, at least from my point of view!
- Getting better at measuring complex issues: There is a growing acceptance that tackling and measuring individual issues such as homelessness or child poverty or drug abuse doesn’t actually solve the problem. While the Nobel committee appears to have awarded the well-funded efforts of traditional economists to ignore reality in a way that traditional economics always does, there is also growing consensus around systems-thinking and complexity-aware design that suggests we have to get better at understanding all of the drivers and levers of social issues together and tackle complex issues in an holistic way. This trend is likely to get wider and wider coverage in the coming year
- Partnerships for improved working and result delivery: For a few years now donors have been encouraging partnership bids in their funding programmes. This is a good thing. Anecdotally I often hear of how competitive the third sector is and how difficult it is to work with organisations that have similar visions or missions to yours. Building on the first point above however, it isn’t hard to see that organisations working from different perspectives with the same or similar beneficiary groups would have a greater impact working together. It is also better for the beneficiary groups as they don’t get ‘charity-itis’ – fatigue from too many ‘do-gooders’ coming to see them to do a different project with them that doesn’t really make a difference at all.
- More smaller/local organisations integration M&E into their work: In the UK at least, this trend is increasing. As donors and supporters continue to ask the difficult questions, so smaller organisations will understand the need for monitoring and evaluation to be a part of their work. The challenge for M&E professionals is how to support smaller organisations to do effective and robust M&E, without breaking the bank! A balance between sophisticated systems and meaningful, clean data that is understood and used is necessary.
- Supply chains coming into focus: As more and more businesses understand that they too have a social impact, so we are seeing a greater emphasis on understanding their supply chains and whether they are contributing to environmental and social degradation. Businesses and social impact organisations are increasingly working together to understand a) what to look for in a supply chain and b) how to raise awareness of issues ranging from single-use plastics to human trafficking (supply chains have recently been the focus of modern slavery legislation in the UK, Australia and potentially Canada). Cleaning supply chains has global implications because we are a globalised economy.
- Focus on sustainability of results: Social investors will tell you that it doesn’t matter how many people you have reached, their investment is wasted if your initiative isn’t sustainable because return on investment can increase over time, rather than be a static thing measured at the end of three years or five years. Donors too want to know that their grants and loans have made longer term differences to target communities. So the focus on sustainability is likely to get stronger, and rightly so. Increasing quality of life, social cohesion, environmental resilience, etc must have long term results that can be sustained without constant intervention by social impact organisations
These five trends are not the only things happening in social impact, but expect to see a lot more noise around them this year and in future years. I will try to expand on each of these trends in future blogs.
What are your thoughts? Do you agree with my assessment? What key trends are you seeing?