What Does Social Impact Even Mean?
Updated: Feb 3
We have been seeing the term “social impact” everywhere, particularly post COVID world, where social inequities were highlighted, but what does it even mean?
There isn’t one specific definition, but simply put, the term “social impact” is used to define actions that positively impact communities, the environment…and even globally. It is about being mindful and conscious of our choices to support the greater good.
For example, Stanford University defines “social impact” as “how organizations’ actions affect the surrounding community. But the University of Michigan, another well-respected institution, has a slightly different definition for social impact: “A significant, positive change that addresses a pressing social challenge.”
So, then what is “What is Social Impact?” I think it is simply something we can all participate in as a corporation, community, family, and individuals.
Demystifying Social Impact
One of my main goals is to demystify social impact and the world it lives in—and I realized something about doing this work. If something appears to be hindering any real chances for progress, it’s this: Social impact work can be intimidating.
When I talk to other people about it, they also don’t understand the terminology or the language, which doesn’t lead to the type of solutions we aim for. We need to take a step back and speak the same language to get on the same page. Particularly as the conversation around social impact becomes increasingly mainstream.
And why is this relevant?
Things will not get better on their own. Newer generations are demanding change, and, In a time where social media exposes the good and bad, the expectations are high. Transparency takes the forefront.
87% of consumers will purchase from a company based on social issues. And 78% of consumers want companies to address social justice issues.
Employees will not take a job at a company that does not demonstrate strong corporate social responsibility. Sustainability and social impact are no longer an add-on value but an imperative objective to be woven into the fabric of a successful organization.
But let’s do it right.
Whatever you decide to do, it should be done for the right reasons and not simply to “do something” for press and brand purposes. It needs to be meaningful and authentic.
Social impact can be looked at through the lens of a business, organization, and our personal impact.
As such, we need to feel empowered in our ability to make a difference. And with that, it is about not just talking and expressing social media about our beliefs but also taking specific actions on these beliefs.
The action applies to companies
In the last five years, especially considering the COVID pandemic, corporate social responsibility ranks high on what people value in different companies. While it comes off as corporate jargon, the recent focus on social impact has far-reaching effects on how people conduct business and interact with one another.
It’s no longer enough for companies to turn a profit. More scrutiny is being placed on businesses than ever before, and they are being held to increasingly high standards when it comes to social responsibility. A company that adheres to social responsibility rules will benefit by seeing increased customer and employee loyalty, brand recognition, and accountability to investors.
Since not everybody has a background in corporate jargon, we need to show communities and companies how they benefit through action. Positive change will come from how these companies choose to operate and act.
But Social impact is also individual
As individuals, we have an opportunity in every moment – with every choice, from the work we do, where we purchase from, to how we choose to travel. It also includes the conversations we engage in and those we don’t.
Individuals are increasingly interested in making a positive social impact in day to day lives. We have many opportunities to make a difference in a big or small way by helping create awareness on the issues or changing an individual life. But it also starts with examining our own actions.
Do I live with purpose?
Do I understand how each of my actions significantly impacts others?
As a consumer, do I know where my money is going? Was the product created ethically?
How do I travel? Am I understanding the impacts of my choices?
Am I empathetic to other perspectives?
A bit of introspection can get you started on your social impact journey.
Why does this all matter?
This work can often feel overwhelming and unapproachable. It might feel that your contribution would not make any difference. And sometimes, you might not understand some of what you hear.
But none of this should be discouraging. The work does get more manageable when you find the proper method and approach. Also, you might find that you have already invested in doing some initial work. And that’s a start.