Thinking About the Value of Purpose & Looking Forward to the Social Finance Forum 2019
by Stephanie Robertson, Chair Social Value Canada, Founder & CIO, SiMPACT Strategy Group
Chair Social Value Canada
& Founder and CIO,
SiMPACT Strategy Group
I’m often asked about what prompted my journey into social impact measurement. As the founder of SiMPACT Strategy Group and Chair of Social Value Canada (SVC), I’ve simply always been fascinated by the challenge of valuing social things. For those unsure of who we are, SVC is the Canadian affiliate of Social Value International – an international non-profit dedicated to changing how the world accounts for value. We believe this change is necessary to reduce inequality and environmental degradation.
I believe that if we can’t articulate value, then important social and environmental investments and actions are at-risk of being invisible, discounted and/or ignored at their – and our – peril.
When I studied for my MBA at the London Business School , every morning I’d pass this vendor at the Baker Street tube station selling the Big Issue newspaper. The Big Issues offers homeless people the opportunity to earn a legitimate income. At the time The Big Issue was the 2nd or 3rd best-recognized brand in the UK. Today it is one of the top brands in the world.
A key moment for me was when I mentioned the vendor – who have become integral to my daily commute – to a classmate who walked the same route, he couldn’t recall seeing him. This classmate had also been living in the UK for… hmmm… 29 years.
It struck me: we don’t all see, and thus value, the same things. And that’s a problem. If “invisible” social issues require investment to address them, but a significant portion of the population don’t even see them, how can we have a conversation around their value and next steps?
Across the globe, social value networks are working to expand the concept of value and how it’s perceived and acted upon in decision-making, measurement and reporting. I am excited about SVC’s emerging role in Canada – as Canada also needs to change the way we as a country account for value, toward the goal of eliminating social inequality and reversing environmental degradation.
That challenge is at the heart of the panel I’ll be moderating at the upcoming Social Finance Forum. Working Differently: Skills and Perspective for Purpose.
Here’s the thing: we all want to achieve the SDGs, to uplift the purpose of capital, we want more impact through investment. But how do we work differently to get there? What skills do we need? How do we develop the consciousness to ground our work with purpose? That’s what we will be exploring on November 7th.
Joining me will be significant practitioners in the space. I met Jed Emerson – AKA the godfather of the social value movement – for the first time in 1999. It was a fortuitous meeting, to be sure. Jed’s article “The Nature of Returns” and work developing the SROI methodology forever changed my path. His work while at The Roberts Enterprise Dvelopment Fund (REDF) offered tools & language to articulate that there is more value than financial value only. Adding this language to my professional toolkit was a pivotal point in my journey toward founding SiMPACT in 2004 and SROI Canada (now SVC) in 2011.
After many years in the social impact space, Jed recently began questioning the movement, its value – and its limitations. Those reflections inspired his new book, the Purpose of Capital, which goes beyond the “how” to explore the “why” of investing. His book encourages readers to truly think about how their actions contribute to community and the environment – and how (and why) they should broaden the scope of their impact investing lens.
Our second panelist, Jake Stacey, is the Vice President of Impact Banking at Vancity Community Investment Bank (VCIB) . A subsidiary of Vancity, VCIB leverages 70 years of banking experience to support organizations and enterprises that share a commitment to positively impact their communities. As they explore opportunities to invest in Ontario communities, I’m curious to hear about what VCIB is doing that’s different from other investment banks. What criteria do they use to determine the right opportunity, what information do they require from prospective and current investees? How will their unique approach and strategy lead to the measurable results they aim for?
Though the impact investing world has traditionally resisted measurement, claiming its too difficult to categorize or count, the notion of social impact measurement and reporting now goes far beyond the non-profit and charitable world. The World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD) is now advancing the Social and Human Capital Protocol framework for businesses to measure and value their impacts and dependencies on people and society. The purpose (as expressed by the WBCSD) is to make business decision-making more effective.
One of the challenges of conferences is that attendees are often presented with great ideas on how to make change, but no roadmap on how to get there. I look forward to the insights that these forward-thinking panelists will offer on the topic of impact measurement. But our conversation will go even further. It will provide food for thought – and ACTION – on how we all might manage, measure and report differently toward the goals of achieving purpose and impact objectives.