It’s been an exciting month in Impact measurement, and in Impact Investing. In both arenas, those involved have come together to find and express a common view, and to set down guidance for the wider sector. In both there are real steps to be inclusive, and span the diversity of organisations and activities in the social sector. In both there is a clear call to action for social enterprise, charities, cooperatives and others to get involved, embracing and taking forward the work that has been done.
On the 20th June the European Commission announced the approval by the GECES of the standards for measuring and reporting of social impact. On the 19th and 20th the Social Impact Investment Taskforce formed by the G8 met in London under the ambitious banner of “Catalysing the Worldwide Impact Investment Market,” with feedback from the National Advisory Boards and the workstream leads, and a foretaste of the reports we’ll see in September.
The GECES standards (http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-14-696_en.htm?locale=EN) have been described by many of those commenting over the last few months as a remarkable achievement: a tribute, in these times of questioning the cohesion in the EU, to our ability to find and celebrate common ground and unity. In response to the call for a definition of “measurable social impact” under two new areas of Social Business legislation from the Commission (the grant and funding support under EaSI, and the cross-border funds under EUSEF), a group of experts appointed by the Commission quickly recognised the wider implications of the work. With no such standard already in existence, this would set the direction for improving communication of impact and outcomes across the social enterprise community and beyond. In response, their report states firmly that measurement should come from the coal face - where the services are being delivered and the outcomes achieved – and not imposed from somewhere else. Furthermore, a selection of a measurement method as a “one size fits all” is a non-starter. What’s been done is to recognise a universal five step process to measurement, and a way of reporting it that embraces existing good practice. It calls for a consolidation of targeted outcomes and indicators to give a list that will fit perhaps 80% of situations, with the option to move to other outcomes and indicators if more appropriate to a given situation.
Having attended the London Taskforce meetings in June, two things particularly strike me. Firstly there is a recognition that the delivery of social good comes from a wide variety of organisations and not just those that use external investment to support it. From charities like the wonderful Kid’s Company delivering essential support from donations raised, through social enterprises like HCT doing it through trading activity, to privately owned companies targeting social change as a prime focus (the “purpose with profit” theme) to corporates with a social conscience: all are investing; all are focusing on similar issues. Impact investing is much wider than the activity of external social investors. Secondly, in a social investment-driven taskforce we need to take care that we don’t create approaches, in impact measurement and other fields, that are investor focused, and divide some of the sector off from the majority. With the GECES work being strongly influential on the Taskforce in impact measurement, and with key social sector figures involved in the other workstreams, my hopes remain high that we won’t fall into this trap.
It’s truly exciting that we have these two products of collective thought and energy from so many quarters. Let’s embrace and take them forward, using and acknowledging them, and not leave them to gather dust.