How to create the right social impact

What makes you excited about getting up in the morning? In the business world, it might be an economic success and solving peoples’ everyday problems. A growing awareness of environmental protection and social issues has reinforced another motivation. Having a social impact! The challenge here is to find a suitable purpose. You have to find measures that do good and fit your competencies.

We’re facing this task right now. One of our companies’ strategic OKRs for 2021 is to have more social impact. Our builders’ approach makes it easy and hard to get started with this objective.

  • Easy, because we are hands-on.
  • Hard, because we reflect critically on our actions.

Are these considerations mutually exclusive, or can we reconcile them? Disclaimer: We are just at the beginning of the journey to have a social impact. So we don’t have most of the answers yet. With this article series, we document our path of creating social impact.

How do we start?

The first step for us is to find a reasonable way to create social impact. Exactly, that is the hard part! There are some critical questions to consider before jumping into action.

Should we just start with a problem that WE WANT to solve?

The question is hard to answer: Which problem would we tackle? It felt like we don’t want to solve one particular problem more than anything else. It’s hard to know if we want to fight poverty more than protecting the environment?

Are there any ulterior motives involved?

That one is clear for us: the sole purpose is to have a social impact. The image doesn’t matter. Admittedly it would be easier to hire talent when doing this stuff, but this doesn’t matter for us. Otherwise, we would have calculated this whole endeavor as an employer branding business case with a clear ROI. But the only return that matters here is social impact.

Should we focus on creating observable value right away, or on long-term effects?

Builders want to know if they are on track or not. They want to validate their actions. Creating a social impact is not that easily observable. It seems hard to know if your actions are worthwhile. There is a difference between validating a new product idea or your social impact: When you make a shadow sale for a new product, you can get immediate feedback: Someone paid a certain amount X for your product. You can move on with this information. When you plant a tree, you don’t know for sure how much impact it will have. 

Should we focus on something where we as a tech organization have a specific edge?

Every business can plant trees, and everyone can do it with his/her salary! Don’t get us wrong. We don’t want to discount the action! We are still wondering. Should the long-term contribution of our agency be something that we can do better than other companies and individuals? Something we have better leverage on. There are several ideas! We could teach people with lacking access to appropriate education to become developers.

Include many perspectives

When we talk to employees about the OKRs, the vision of having a social impact is controversial. We notice again and again that there are different perspectives and approaches to the topic. The two most striking trends were the following:

  1. Many Employees try to combine doing something good and gaining a positive return for the company. It’s still rooted in many minds that each of the company’s actions should have a positive ROI. Discussions are often shifting to an increase in employer attractiveness. The employees also mentioned customer acquisition benefits. For example that the company receives social badges to qualify for certain orders.
  2. Another interesting point of the discussion focuses on the core business. Is it more important to cut all harmful actions before engaging in new endeavors? One example is the use of an Indian Captcha Solver-service for some of our software products as that might be unethical. We did not do it! So it seems wise to watch your unsocial actions too.

To sum it up.

There are different approaches to creating a social impact. The point is to do something appropriate and not just for the sake of it. As you can see, this path is still not clear. We will continue writing down our thoughts on that. Hopefully, we will not only be able to write about it, but soon we will be able to give it a hand ourselves.