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What is Social Impact and Where do I Begin?


The phrase ‘Social Impact’ is one of the buzzwords of today’s society. Everyone is talking about creating social impact, measuring social impact and sustaining social impact. And yes, they mention the whole phrase each time. But, what exactly is Social Impact?

A simple and direct translation: it is the effect of any action on people or society. It can be the effect from a corporate point of view, whereby a business operation affects the surrounding communities. It can be from a government point of view, with a project that aids in welfare. It is so loose that if you do a Google search on the phrase, ‘What is social impact?’ you get over half a billion results!

In my years of trying to study this field and to understand it thoroughly, I have more recently managed to find one definition that I feel gets to the essence of Social Impact, all while being concise. The University of Michigan’s Centre for Social Impact defines the phrase as a significant, positive change that addresses a pressing social challenge.’

This definition covers all of the important parts:

  1. Addressing a pressing social challenge: The impact needs to help people, and it has to be based on a needs assessment. You can’t help people if they don’t want that particular aid, no matter how altruistic you may be.
  2. Creating a positive effect: Projects, not just philanthropic ones, need to have a positive effect on society.
  3. Possessing significance: The most important part for me is the word significant. To me, this means sustainable, not in terms of finances, but in terms of impact and reach.

What I mean by the third point is that even if a project is a one-time project and takes just a year to complete, the impact created from the project must be long-lasting. The project or event should be able to impact generations to come by altering their behaviour or their situation (for the better, of course).

So how does one begin their Social Impact journey?

The answer is quite simple: Just begin the journey. It is my belief that once an individual or an organisation starts to think about its impact on society, it will almost automatically begin to improve processes to help others.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is the most holistic way for companies or organisations to look at their social (and environmental) impact. But what a lot of companies think when they hear “CSR,” is that they can give back to society only once they have become very successful/profitable. However, CSR goes beyond that. CSR is something that can be attained even as an organisation is growing. It can start very close to home by addressing the employees of the organisation and then expanding their stakeholder circle to include second and third degree levels of influence. Eventually the organisation will be run in a way that positively impacts all stakeholders and thus ticks all the CSR boxes.

The same goes for individuals. I believe that charity begins at home. One needs to look at how they affect the other people in their lives, particularly the ones they deal with on a regular basis (e.g. family and colleagues), and simply make the various interactions as positive as possible. Then they may start to expand the stakeholder circle to include people met occasionally and at random. If everyone were able to do this, had some time to reflect on their various interactions, and alter their actions or words to create positive situations, then perhaps we could make the world a happier place (yes, it’s very cliché, but it’s a happy thought to have).

I began this post wanting to be theoretical in explaining Social Impact, particularly from the view of a non-profit professional, but I realised that the phrase is much more than just a social sector buzzword and can be applied to our everyday lives.
My definition of Social Impact is simply: Be the best version of yourself to everyone. This applies not only to individuals, but to all blocks and levels of society.

Author’s note: I realise this is not a typical blogpost from THF, but it is my interpretation of Social Impact and how it can be applied everyday by anyone. If you have any thoughts or comments, I would be glad to hear from you.


Anusha has a background in Communications and Non-Profit Management. Her career first began in Corporate Communications where she was introduced to Corporate Social Responsibility and Community Development. She found herself focusing largely on Community Development projects and soon made the switch to Philanthropy where she founded the Tolaram Foundation as Executive Director and Board Member. Having launched the philanthropic foundation and initiated various Social Projects in Nigeria, where she grew up, she focuses mainly on Social Impact and creating positive change through needs-oriented projects. She is also interested in how finance can be used as an agent to create more sustainable and lasting programs/impact. She is still a board member at the Tolaram Foundation. Anusha holds a Bachelor of Social Sciences from NUS and an MBA from Oxford.

The HEAD Foundation Commentary is a platform to provide timely and, where appropriate, policy-relevant commentary of topical issues and contemporary developments. The views expressed by the authors are solely their own and do not reflect opinions of The HEAD Foundation.

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