Measuring the Social Impact of Volunteering – A Sewa Day case study

By Pratik Dattani,  EPG Economic and Strategy Consulting

Measuring the social impact of tangible outcomes is often straightforward. There are tried and tested methodologies for doing so, and financial instruments such as social impact bonds, that provide a impact measurement framework that has matured over time.

However, when tangible outcomes aren’t involved, and the value of volunteering is measured by the level of social interaction and civic engagement generated, things are a little trickier.

Sewa Day is a global volunteering initiative based on the concept of “selfless service” (“sewa”). From 5,000 participants in its first year in 2010, it has grown to around 50,000 volunteers in 2012, spread across 20 countries. Strictly no fundraising takes place, and volunteers are asked to give up their time based on projects that “Bring a little joy to others”, “Help relieve hardship and poverty” or “Help protect the environment.”

Independent economic research by EPG found that for every £1 of time, effort and money expended into Sewa Day, Britain benefited by £2.60. This meant £4.7 million of net benefit for the country.

This was based on several conservative estimates, so in actual fact, we found that the benefit could be as high as £11.7m. This was made up of benefits to the environmental, the economy, productivity and personal wellbeing. We had actual data for around 46,600 volunteers across eight countries, that provided 390,000 volunteering hours.

Figure 1.1     Participating organisations by geographical area

EPG1

Source: EPG analysis, Sewa Day team.

Figure 1.2     Breakdown of organisations in Britain taking part in Sewa Day 2012

EPG2

Source: EPG analysis, Sewa Day team.

Personal stories about civic engagement and the universality of sewa can sometimes get lost in the numbers. Often difficult to quantify are the individuals friendships that are developed, relationships that are built and personal stories that make volunteers want to volunteer in the future. And that is why we think the impact could in fact be as high as £11.7m.

One of the important results we found was that Sewa Day helped participants develop a “taste” for volunteering – around 60 percent of organisers of projects in Britain said that they were “not likely” or only “somewhat likely” to have hosted a volunteering event without Sewa Day. The public policy implications are powerful: if this taste could be developed into a taste for, say, “volunteering with physical activity”, we NHS could save between £0.5bn and £4.2bn.[1]

Figure 1.3     SROI across all project groupings for Sewa Day 2012

EPG3

Source: EPG analysis, Sewa Day team.

We found the most helpful projects, from the perspective of bringing greater well-being to British society were the ones in the category “Bring a little joy to others”, which generated an SROI of £12.50 for every £1 invested. These were often to do with improving social interactions between groups of people, and performing odd jobs for the needy in society. Two examples of civic engagement summed it up best:

And Riaz Ravat from the St Phillips Centre in Leicester, said of these social interactions: “one of the elderly ladies…said that our presence made her feel ‘Royal’, [and] the elderly gentleman who ‘wanted us to come back every day’ “.

Shishira Johny, a student at a school in Dubai said: “We all know that we must plant trees, reduce pollution and all of that. But it was that event that really instilled in me the feeling of pride that my school has contributed in whatever small way it can. It was this feeling that opened my eyes and helped me to contribute more to the environment as well as the society, just to feel the satisfaction and joy once again.”


Pratik is the Managing Director of EPG Economic and Strategy Consulting. You can see the report Infographic here. You can read the full report here.

Why not sign up to our newsletter for all the latest social impact news, reports and resources.


[1] British Medical Journal (2003), Obesity costs UK economy £2bn a year, pp. 327-1308, 2003; National Obesity Observatory (2013), Obesity and Health webpage. Accessed 27 January 2013.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *