The peril of ignoring your social responsibility
Chief Strategist, Change Maker, Impact Investment Expert
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Lesson: Disruption for Social Good with Renee Kaplan
Step #10 Impact: The peril of ignoring your social responsibility
Impact is a, I think, hard thing to measure. No one has a silver bullet as to how an organization gets to impact and how we as a foundation ultimately measure it. Because of the complexity of where they work and who they work with and the issues that they work in, metrics can become--they are a really important thing--but they can become a very complex thing very quickly that you can get lost in.
For us, the first approach to impact is simplicity. And we get back to the big system change or the equilibrium change. At the end of the day, where is the status quo now? How do we know it's there? What are the four or five data points that really show us that the status quo is what it is? As we look to the new vision that we want to be, where is there evidence and proof that there is pull, that there is an ecosystem demand for where we see the vision of a new status quo or equilibrium?
For us, simplicity is really important. The other piece I'd say is there's no doubt research and verified, credible audited research is key. So, for us, a third-party verifying--it's not enough for just the social entrepreneur to give us their numbers. We have to say, "You know what? Great. Thank you. We trust you. But we also are going to verify this with third parties. We're going to go to whatever sources or hire people to help us do that so that we can be sure we're doing our due diligence in a way that's credible and honest and we're good stewards of our resources."
Without that, I think a lot of organizations make the mistake of asking for pages and pages. In some cases, one example is a foundation asked for a 70-page measurement report from one of our social entrepreneurs. He decided that the grant itself wasn't worth it because of that reporting requirement.
So to get lost in metrics without a headline of what you're trying to really understand is back to that simplicity that we need. But we also have to say, "Okay, where is the proof of where we're going?" Some agreed upon set of metrics that we can, again, extract and exchange with the entrepreneur but then also verify.
For us, as we build on that, that foundation of, again, four or five aggregations of data that get us to some key proof points, that's enough for us to be able to say, "Okay, we can move forward." That for us means the impact that we look to and we're constantly looking at how, whether it's new trend data, whether it's information from other resources, how it impacts then our core beliefs or that core data set that we started with.
One of the organizations is an organization called Riders for Health. The story--and I'll start with that first--is of a couple, a husband and wife, who were motorcycle enthusiasts who decided to take a motorcycle trip in Africa. They were going in out of the way places in rural areas and began to see ambulances and emergency vehicles on the side of the road in disrepair and left to be abandoned. They couldn't really understand that. A lot of it was because the terrain in some of these rural villages is very dense and complicated and challenging.
So these vehicles weren't made to go into some of the villages that they were supposed to go. They also saw a woman being rushed to the hospital in a wheelbarrow by the fastest man in the village because there was no emergency 911 ambulance to call. They thought they could do something about that.
They went back to England, mortgaged their house, and decided they would setup an organization that helped train local villagers to do health services on motorcycles and also train these people to maintain motorcycles and to be able to employ people in villages.
Well, the government caught on to this. The exciting part was as they began to grow and prove that this new innovation could work and be scaled, we helped them work with the government in Gambia to say, "What if you outsourced your emergency vehicles to Riders for Health and they were able to provide these health transportation services at a lower cost to more people in a more reliable way."
We ended up also doing a story, a segment on national media that talked about Riders. Within a few weeks, that agreement, that MOU had been signed by the government and Riders for Health is now operating in multiple countries throughout Africa with this service and scaling pretty rapidly.
So the impact, looking at a model like that, it was, again, seeing a problem. It wasn't a business plan approach. It was we see a problem. We see our knowledge in this innovation that we have, which in this case was motorcycles, being adapted in these rural villages. That scale was able to be achieved because they had success in one country, which in this case was Gambia.
Ignoring social impact is at your great peril if you're any kind of financial institution or whether you're a funder or whether you're a corporation or a foundation like we are. I think it's outdated. I think it's inevitable that we all have to start making more of an integrated approach. You cannot ignore social impact today. If you look at what's happening with Ebola, if you look at what's happening with climate, if you look at what's happening with insurance around global crisis issues, no one can ignore the social impacts that we all face daily.
As a funder, I find it just extraordinarily old school to think about funding only for a profit and ignoring all the other businesses that are working that could have both a profit model and a social impact model.
At the Skoll Foundation, we're seeing much more acceptance, less of this hard wall between the for-profit investment arm and the nonprofit or social impact side. You can have both. You can be investing in really great solar technology. Look at Tesla and the incredible success of an electric car company. It well exceeded the traditional profit margins or the traditional profit projections.
So those examples are becoming more and more known. As they do, the leaders in the space that look at the opportunity with social impact and profit will be the ones that succeed.