Photo: Anglo American
There’s nothing like a good story to engage and excite an audience. The human story behind the numbers is what communications experts always look for as they try to transform dry facts into something that will capture the imagination of a message-overloaded public.
But in the world of corporate social responsibility (CSR), it is precisely this reliance on the simple story that is now holding back progress. CSR has tended to be dominated by stories. Polished case studies from corporate affairs departments on the one side, and half-baked horror stories from campaigners on the other.
The problem with this confrontational approach – this briefing and counter-briefing, descriptions and counter-descriptions of reality – is that we actually miss the real story: that business can have a hugely beneficial impact on international development.
The answer lies in dry facts. What’s been missing is an evidence-based dialogue. For too long CSR has been led by hearsay and anecdote. Thankfully, things are changing.
In our Book Club, we highlight a new publication by Ethan Kapstein on Unilever's economic footprint in South Africa. Recently, the World Business Council on Sustainable Development published the results of a two-year project to develop a framework for measuring the contribution of business to the economic and broader development goals. Other companies (such as Anglo American and SABMiller), donor agenices (such as the International Finance Corporation), and non-government organisations (such as Oxfam) have also been developing practical ways to quantify impact.
Businesses recognise that better measurement can support their license to operate and stakeholder relationships, as well as enable them to better manage risk and develop strategies that deliver even greater positive outcomes for their businesses and the societies in which they operate.
What are your thoughts on measuring impact? Is it worth the effort? What are the benefits when it is done right? Do you have any good practice examples that you can share? Are there examples where an impact assessment has led to organisational learning and improved outcomes? If you've measured business impact, what tips do you have for others? If you haven't, what questions do you have?