Social Impact, Wellbeing and the Things that Really Matter – Part 1

by Steve Coles, Intentionality CIC

Has any child ever said, ‘When I grow up I want to be a social impact analyst’?  However, a social impact analyst of sorts I have become.  And in a series of just two short blogs I’ll explain why and what I think matters most.

I find myself here as a result of many different experiences I’ve been privileged to encounter.  Working in both the voluntary and private sectors in the UK and abroad, I have seen both ‘social’ and ‘enterprise’.  Studying at Imperial College exposed me to some of the best thinking in entrepreneurship and wellbeing.  Hearing captivating stories of entrepreneurial people who ‘do things differently’ (and having had the privilege of working with a few such people and organisations) has inspired me.  ‘Here’ is Intentionality CIC, the social enterprise and wellbeing consultancy that I founded in 2010, which is obsessed with understanding, measuring, maximising and communicating social impact, and with helping our clients make the biggest difference to the wellbeing, or quality of life, of those who need it most.

A guiding principle for us is: ‘The best things in life aren’t things’

That’s a statement that, when we stop and think about it, we know is true.  Research repeatedly shows that, above a relatively low level, increased income doesn’t make us happier and having bigger and better toys doesn’t make us happier.  The things that make us happier – the best things in life – are families, friendships, food and fun, gratitude, creativity and purpose, being outside and having meaningful work.  I’m captivated by the world of ‘social enterprise’ and of the wider voluntary sector, in which so many organisations intentionally seek to increase those ‘best things in life’.

At Intentionality, we believe our understanding of social impact should be informed and shaped by a good understanding of wellbeing so that we can directly, and through our work with our clients, make the biggest difference in the stuff that matters most for those that need it most.

In this blog, I’ll introduce two of five things that we think really matters in social impact analytics, and the other three will be covered in a later blog post.  I first presented these five brief points as part of an RSA ‘Spotlight’ event at Oxford Jam in April 2013 and have been reflecting on them, and refining and developing them, further ever since.

Firstly, we think that social impact analytics should ‘Measure What Matters’.  ‘You can tell an awful lot about a business by what and how it measures’ say Kevin Lynch and Julius Walls, Jr. in their book, Mission, Inc.  And what matters most is ‘the mission’.  Great social impact analysis should flow from, be informed by and feed back into the mission, vision, stated aims or objectives.  Entrepreneurs should ask themselves, ‘why does my enterprise exist?’, ‘what difference to I want to make in the world?’ and then measure what matters most in the answers to those questions of mission.

Secondly, we think that ‘Wellbeing Really Matters’.  In 2006 the UK Government’s Whitehall Wellbeing Working Group defined wellbeing as:

“Wellbeing is a positive physical, social and mental state; it is not just the absence of pain, discomfort and incapacity.  It arises not only from the action of individuals, but from a host of collective goods and relationships with other people. It requires that basic needs are met, that individuals have a sense of purpose, and that they feel able to achieve important personal goals and participate in society. It is enhanced by conditions that include supportive personal relationships, involvement in empowered communities, good health, financial security, rewarding employment, and a healthy and attractive environment…”

We think that drawing on the deep and varied research into what makes individuals, families, communities and society most happy, most fulfilled, is eminently sensible when considering social impact.

We suggest starting out by looking for the difference you’re making in relation to personal support, friendships, participation, health (physical and mental), debt, employment and so on.  Measuring the difference made in those areas can put mission, and the increase of the things that really matter, at the heart of any enterprise, project or programme.

In the next blog, we’ll look at three other things we think really matter. Read part 2 here.


 

Steve Coles is the founder and Managing Director of Intentionality CIC, was the part-time Social Enterprise Development Manager for The Salvation Army in the UK between 2009 and 2013, and is a Fellow of the RSA and a member of the Social Enterprise UK Council, SROI Network, and of SIAA.

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