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Social Value Canada – Sophia Robinson

IMPORTANT NEWS – Canadian Achievement of Level 3 SVI Accredited Practitioner

Sophia Robinson Earns Advanced Practitioner Status – Evaluating SROI for Vancouver Based Non-Profit Artists for Mental Health 

Sophia is the Director of Finance and Strategy at McLaren Housing Society of British Columbia and an independent consultant. As part of her application for Level 3 Advanced Practitioner designation, Sophia worked with Artists for Mental Health to evaluate the social return on investment for their mindfulness self-compassion pilot project. 

As a freshly minted Level 3 Accredited Social Value Advanced Practitioner, Sophia Robinson fully understands the challenges of measuring impact across a diversity of industries. 

“There are similar things happening, but your impact may be different,” she says. “And the way you measure impact for various organizations in the same space may be different.” 

Sophia’s own career as a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) includes working in a range of environments including public practice, engineering, residential and commercial leasing, software development and non-profit work. She currently serves as the Director of Finance and Strategy at McLaren Housing Society of British Columbia, a non-profit providing housing to low-income individuals and families living with HIV/AIDS. She also holds a Master of Arts (MA) in Leadership from Victoria’s Royal Roads University where she focused on social enterprise organizations 

Sophia’s journey to social value accreditation began in 2019. At the time, she was a full-time director of finance at a software company while also working with Propellor Advisors. As an Associate with Propellor, she consulted with organizations in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. This included evaluating and supporting other non-profits that focused on the area’s marginalized populations through employment programs such as a catering cafe designed to build work skills. 

“My work at the time had a lot to do with feasibility studies, determining whether they needed financing,” says Sophia. “I saw that a lot of organizations at that time were doing this great work, but were unable to measure their impact.” 

To find the tools she knew she was missing, she looked online, finding a program from Social Value UK and Social Value International: a Social Return on Investment (SROI) Accreditation Course. She enrolled quickly and made travel plans to attend in London, UK. 

“My daughter and I went on a vacation,” she says, adding with a laugh: “even though I spent two days of it on this course.” 

In addition to gaining the tools she needed, Sophia expanded on the familiar principles of materiality from her training as an accountant; these could help the non-profits that she worked with determine the value of the impact that their programs were providing to the community. In January 2020, she began working with Artists for Mental Health on a project that led her to submit her final report: Artists for Mental Health Mindfulness Project: Social Return on Investment Evaluation. 

Artists for Mental Health is a Vancouver-based organization that aims to fight the stigma around mental health in the artistic community by spreading awareness, initiating conversations, and supporting artists suffering from mental distress. 

In January 2020, the organization ran a pilot workshop on Mindfulness Self-Compassion — a practice requiring kindness and understanding of the self without judgment of inadequacies or faults. It was a practical way of addressing what the organization saw in demoralized local artists, but, as a pilot project, it needed confirmation. It was Sophia’s report that provided that confirmation. 

She projected the aggregate social value created by Mindfulness Self-Compassion workshop to a projected  £4,435 (about $7,300 CAD), with an SROI ratio of £6.48:£1. For every dollar of investment, £6.48 of social value would be created. 

Sophia’s report recommended continuing the program and aiming to expand it by partnering with other organizations. It also suggested looking at more volunteer engagement and leadership development. 

As Artists for Mental Health’s Director of Social Impact, Sophia is putting the recommendations of her report into practice by focusing on acquiring wellness partners and partnering with academic institutions.   

“I’m one of the many people who strive for perfection while wondering if the work they’re doing is truly helping people,” says Kathryn Robinson, Executive Director of Artists for Mental Health. “Sophia’s work with SROI really changed our perspective on how to measure our impact and has pushed us forward to pursue even bigger opportunities for us here at Artists for Mental Health.” 

In January 2021, Sophia left 20 years in the corporate sector behind and took on her current position at McLaren Housing Society of BC. The move briefly delayed her Level 3 Advanced Practitioner accreditation — even Sophia needs time to catch her breath — but she was ultimately able to submit her final report with notes from her assessor. Now, she hopes to develop some of the social value initiatives, teach the principles she’s learned, and continue to help and support organizations in making a social impact. 

It’s a journey,” she says. “But everything I did in the past informs and impacts what I do now.