It is all connected: let’s value what matters
It has been an intense and scary six months. We are experiencing trauma, and change, at a global scale that we have not collectively experienced in a long time. This is a time when the work that we do, as a community focused on creating positive social impact and social value, is critical.
Less than six months ago we were facing the start of the devastating fires in Australia. This was a time when our collective consciousness finally began to viscerally appreciate the gravity of climate change and our interconnected relationship with nature, and each other. For many of us, this may feel like a lifetime ago, already. But for the communities directly affected, the impacts are still being felt.
We are now in midst of a global pandemic. As I am sure many of you are experiencing, there is so much information and so much chatter about how we need to adjust or lives, and livelihoods, individually and collectively. I find this quote from Arundhati Roy pertinent and inspiring:
Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.
As the fires in Australia were spreading in early December, I was fortunate to head to Taipei, Taiwan for the Social Value Matters Conference. The focus was “going mainstream”, which has felt increasingly apt given how our world has since changed! There were many significant conversations in Taipei around the topic of re-imaging another world. This is feeling more pertinent than ever given the pandemic. The trauma and change that we are collectively experiencing provides a spark for how society needs to change what we measure and value.
Conferences are a chance to step back, to appreciate what has changed, and to explore where to go next. The conference was hosted by Social Value Taiwan, with extensive support from Social Value International. The environment they created was sensational. There were a lot of sessions and panel discussions. Having been heavily involved in this movement for the past decade, there were a few key observations I would like to share about the conference, what is happening in our society and what we can do about it.
My first observation is that social impact and social value is legitimately going mainstream. The breadth of speakers and panelists from across sectors at the conference was an indicator that social impact and social value are being taken seriously. In one session we were focusing on corporate responsibility being the core of businesses; the next session we were considering how impact investing and philanthropy could give power back to those most in need; then we moved to how social enterprises can effectively blend social and environmental value with financial value. How we collectively account for and measure value is the responsibility of everyone in all sectors. There is no escape!
My second observation is that we can come up with frameworks and tables, but at the core of social impact and social value is listening to people, because that is what matters and where we can learn the most. I was privileged to chair a panel session on how value can be co-created with communities rather than providing services to communities, with a specific focus on Indigenous communities. I had the honour of introducing Awerangi Tamihere, a Māori leader from New Zealand and COO of Whānau Ora Commissioning Agency (WOCA), who captivated the audience with the story of how Aotearoa is building the systems by Māori, for Māori. And everyone was taken aback by Pilin Yapu, a local Taiwanese Aboriginal leader and educator, who welcomed us with song. This is the stuff that matters – how we connect and why we have all these frameworks and measurement practices. At the core, it is about people and how we connect with each other and the land we are on, in harmony.
My final observation is that amongst the tumult, some frameworks are excellent in helping guide and explain what is happening and what we can do. At SIMNA, the social value principles are our central guide. For example, we must listen to stakeholders, especially the people who are most vulnerable in these difficult times, and recognise the power we yield in our decisions and actions, and how we can support them. And frameworks like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs help explain how our individual and collective needs change, over time. It may also bring to light the struggles many individuals and communities have a lot of the time, not just in global pandemics.
As a community of people who want resources allocated in an equitable, efficient and effective manner, and who have the skills in measuring and valuing what matters, this is the chance for our community to help guide Australia as we embark on a new order.
The inequalities in our economic system are being laid bare by this crisis. Rather than returning to business as usual, countries such as Australia would be well-served to instead build back better by creating a wellbeing economy. The time is now! #BuildBackBetter
Simon Faivel, Director, Consulting, Social Ventures Australia, Chair of SIMNA and Co-Chair of Social Value International