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A beginner's guide to positive social impact

Let's talk about social impact. Businesses often don't know where to start when designing and implementing a strategy. They know they want to do good, but how should they go about it?
Defining the impact corporates have on society

Corporate Social Investment (CSI), or social impact, means that a company takes steps to ensure the way it operates will lead to positive social and environmental effects. The company takes stock of the way it operates in the world to incorporate addressing cultural and social issues that benefit both in the process. Not only can CSI strategies increase business and revenue, they promote change and progress throughout the world.

However, CSI is different from philanthropy. When properly implemented, it should become ingrained in the values and culture of a company and positively affect the way the company does business. CSI should become inherent in the mission and message of an organisation.

Businesses that ignore corporate social investment strategies run a risk of having a bad reputation socially and environmentally, which could negatively impact their bottom line and brand. We live in a society in which consumers want to spend their money on products and services they believe in, therefore engage with companies that follow ethical practices that meet their own beliefs.

Designing a strategy

Regardless of why a business would choose to embark on a social impact journey, it is crucial to have a clear strategy in deciding how to pursue these intentions, and with whom to partner.

You have to have a clear conviction of ‘why?’, ‘what?’ and ‘with whom?” in order to achieve an effective and long-term positive social impact. You also have to have a clear goal for the investment of money, time and energy in order to make wise decisions for the long term.

The narrower your focus, the easier it will be to define a mission and concrete social upliftment goals. Be specific about:
  • What you will focus on.
  • Where you will act.
  • Who you will help.

This has three tangible benefits:
  • It increases your chances of success by concentrating your efforts on something that is achievable.
  • It makes it easier to determine the activities needed to get there.
  • It makes it easier to measure progress.

Considering the almost endless range of opportunities where you can get involved, the following is a useful guide on “how to begin”:
  • Understand the motivation behind your intentions.
  • Establish a vision – this will lay the foundation for all further activities.
  • Define your focus – who you will help: children and youth, rural areas? What issues you will focus on: health, education, social justice?

Based on your motivation, vision and focus area, consider the following:
  • Where will you act?
  • Which possible partners will be a good fit?
  • Which beneficiaries will be a good fit?
  • What is the desired social impact you want to achieve?

Once the above questions have been answered, you then need to decide:
  • Your degree and scale of involvement.
  • The form or vehicle, eg, direct funding of a non-profit, or the establishment of your own trust.
  • The type of giving you are committing to, eg, finances, human resources, time.
  • What areas you would like to fund, eg, programmes, capital projects, operational costs, research.
  • The duration of your involvement.

Answering these questions thoughtfully will not only help you and your business to articulate your vision and develop a suitable social impact framework, it will also help to guide the strategy and planning before any implementation or formal partnership takes place.

Assess your level of social impact

Nation Builder’s social impact assessment tool is a good place to understand how well you are already doing or where your focus areas should move to for even greater results.

Completing our annual social investment assessments will help you identify where there is room for improvement to ensure that every cent you invest in social development has the greatest effect possible.

Rating your impact will give you access to the Nation Builder online Peer Learning community of businesses.

Here you can ask one another questions and share struggles and lessons learnt, as well as have access to a library of best-in-industry content that will make your social investing easier.

Nation Builder for more information.

More about Nation Builder:

Nation Builder is a platform that equips and inspires businesses to have a positive social impact in South Africa. As part of the Mergon Group, they collaborate across sectors to co-create resources that assist businesses in their social development work. They host regular events that bring together people who are committed to using their business as a force for good, and their continuous research is aimed at supporting business to partner well with non-profit organisations and the government, in order to build a prosperous South Africa.

5 Nov 2019 16:44

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About the author

Keri-Leigh Paschal is an Executive Trustee at Nation Builder.




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