Periodic impact assessment is a necessary tool for any social enterprise to gauge the effectiveness of its impact initiatives. While profits or earnings indicate the financial success of its business model, mission related goals like say improvement in awareness regarding safe menstruation among women, effectiveness of a rural health care worker in ensuring better healthcare in rural areas are all subjective metrics. Which is why there is a need for a system that is cognizant of the socio-economic issues in the target group and understands how the initiatives can benefit them sustainably.
Impact Assessment is a means of measuring the effectiveness of your organisational activities and judging the significance of changes brought about by those activities. It is neither Art or Science, but both. Impact Assessment is intimately linked to your Mission, your impact goals and, in that sense, ripples through the organisation. – IFRC.org
A successful social entrepreneur is not the one who has accidentally created impact in the course of his/her impact initiatives. It is how he/she intentionally delivers a sustainable impact with a motive to bring about a positive socioeconomic shift in the society. There are two keys to becoming a good social entrepreneur. Intentionality, that is intending to have a positive social impact rather than merely delivering one incidentally, is how you become a social entrepreneur. Accountability, measuring the impact, is how you become an effective one. – Devin D Thorpe
Measuring Impact Is Different From Measuring Outputs
Measuring output is not the same as measuring success on the goal of achieving social impact. Measurement of a task is just an indicator of how well you have finished it. It does not speak anything about actual results on the ground.
The goals should not be quantitative like measuring the number of people who are not homeless anymore but rather how many are enabled with the means to lead a self-sustained life through employment (impact).
Impact Assessment should not be about collecting more data but rather about collecting and properly analyzing the data that matters and is more relevant to the project’s or organization’s objectives. – Marc J. Epstein, coauthor of the book titled Measuring and Improving Social Impacts: A Guide for Nonprofits, Companies, and Impact Investors
To get more insights on Impact Assessment in social enterprises, we caught up with Priya Naik, Founder of Samhita.
“As companies’ CSR and sustainability strategies are growing more sophisticated, they are demanding better measurement and evaluation of the impact of their investments. Impact Assessment (IA) is the answer to this demand. Although, Impact Assessment is a core competency of a social enterprise or change practitioner, there is little or no importance given to it. The challenge for non-profits and social enterprises is to move away from the “output” driven focus and towards “impact” or “outcome” driven.” – Priya
Let’s take an example. Voice4Girls (V4G) is a social enterprise working for the welfare of girls in their adolescence by guiding them through puberty and motivating them to pursue higher education. V4G initiates programs targeted at girls and their families from time to time. The effectiveness of these initiatives would be ‘number of girls who attended school post-puberty’.
But, that’s not the measurement of the end impact. When we spoke to Anusha Bhardwaj, the Executive Director of Voice4Girls on what has been the impact of their initiatives, here’s what she said,
“Earlier, once the girls would start menstruating, parents would cut her off from school, playing outside with friends and even restricted their interaction with people around. The girls were married even before you knew it. Now, after 3-4 years of constant counselling and interaction, the parents have realized the importance of educating their daughters. Today, when I go to the village, they send their girls to school on their own and make an effort to understand how to look after their daughter’s well-being in adolescence.”
Gaps In Impact Assessment
- Lack of clarity of goals and the ability to distinguish it from measurable insights
Goals don’t determine the mission of the social enterprise, but it is the other way round.
Many a times, social enterprises mistake individual activities as their goals. This basic differentiation of a goal from the mission skews the process of Impact Assessment. Outcomes are confused with impact quite often when the team is not in alignment with the social entrepreneur’s vision.
- The absence of standardised systems that can actually translate outcomes into impact centric metrics
Impact is intangible. It is visible but cannot be quantified. One can measure the trends of school dropouts in rural schools, but the same cannot be said for the quality of education that the students receive and whether it is putting them on a level playing field with their urban counterparts.
“Social impact often comprises intangible outcomes – level of curiosity, confidence level, decision-making ability, general awareness, increase in mobility- which are often hard to document.
These intangible inputs require costly and time-consuming techniques – village mapping, wealth ranking and oral life histories. This affects the framework of the Impact Assessment being carried out. Further, given the versatile nature of social causes, outcomes and impact created, there is a lack of availability and awareness around standardized frameworks for measuring social impact.” – Priya Naik
Conducting An Impact Assessment For Your Social Enterprise
The best way to carry out a periodic Impact Assessment of your social impact initiatives is to align yourselves with the SDGs. SDGs 2030 is a robust list of goals that has divided impact issues into measurable goals and subgoals. Using the SDGs as a vision document can help a social enterprise set benchmarks for their organisation.
Uma Sekar, Impact & ESG Manager, Capria Ventures, suggests starting with an impact thesis.
“Entrepreneurs should start with an impact thesis or strategy, set goals that are achievable and align their core metrics. Some of the common metrics are lives impacted, job creation and geographic coverage. The more specific they are about the populations they are addressing–base of the pyramid, low-income, minorities, women, refugees, etc.–the better. If it is an environment focused company – energy conservation, carbon footprint are common measures.”
A positive social impact is essentially changing the lives of the target communities in a sustainable way. Stories have the power to capture the non-tangible aspects of impact. Introducing storytelling in your social impact assessment will not only help you get qualitative insights from the grassroots but also tell human stories behind the data points.
Quantitative data collection coupled with qualitative observations is the best way to assess the effectiveness of your impact program. The challenge for social enterprises is to move away from an “output” driven focus towards a more “impact” or “outcome” driven focus.
Cover image: The Alternative