Social and Environmental Impacts A Problem-Solver’s Puzzle


Over the last year, we’ve seen more of the worldwide community ‘wake up’ to global problems that have affected people and the planet. For decades, non-profit organizations, humanitarians, and environmentalists have worked tirelessly to make a difference. Now, they are joined by a growing movement of philanthropists, impact entrepreneurs, impact funds, and corporations who have shifted their focus toward varying degrees of environmental and social responsibility. We see billions being channeled toward these efforts, but despite the amount of money being spent, the high numbers of solutions and resources, and the great intentions, problems persist. As nations create mandates for positive impact, consumers grow more conscientious about their buying decisions that support companies that fund beneficial solutions. And, as corporate funding to address social and environmental challenges steadily increases, the big question is whether any of this will make a meaningful and sustained difference—since not much that has come before has seemed to do. The answer is a resounding ‘yes,’ it can make a difference…but only if we start to do things differently. While solutions are by no means straightforward, there are a number of key building blocks we can get in place to facilitate solutions having a stronger foundation and being more scalable. Create Common Bodies of Knowledge One of the greatest barriers to applying solutions effectively is insufficient knowledge. We have to bear in mind that most problems are not new, solutions exist, and there have also been numerous attempts at solutions in the past. Creating mechanisms that enable those who have come before (or who have solutions) to share information on things like resources, challenges, lessons learned, real impact outcomes, and points of contact for transfer of knowledge—mechanism creation is a solution. This would both save time, and increase the ability to adapt or adopt and scale solutions to make the most of funding and to give us a real chance of being able to truly solve the big problems. Shifting the Modus Operandi to One of Collaboration The current state of play is one that predominantly fosters competition and operating in silos. What have therefore ended up with are millions of initiatives working in a disjointed way, all attempting to solve the same problems. While it’s undeniable that competition can lead to innovation, we should really be thinking about this in smarter and more strategic ways, with problem-specific partnerships in innovation being incentivized. While it’s undeniable that competition can lead to innovation, we should really be thinking about this in smarter and more strategic ways, with problem-specific partnerships in innovation being incentivized. Rewarding Coordinated and Real Impact over Great Reporting Impact investors and funds, as well as philanthropists, and indeed government mandates are now moving toward levels of accountability on social and environmental issues. Most of this accountability is evidenced through environmental, social, and governance reporting. There needs to be more of a move toward requirements for transparency around impact through evidence from stakeholders who are beneficiaries, external to those directly linked to the organization claiming the impact. Funding should move towards that which requires a vetting of impact, or is released at milestones for new initiatives, and which places greater value on strategic collaborations, and more appropriately aligning funding with impact. Moving Towards Multi-stakeholder Approaches For true, embedded impact, solutions need to address stakeholders at multiple levels. In developing or expanding the application of solutions, we need to address challenges at individual, community, institutional, as well as systemic levels. We also need to be engaging stakeholders from the private, public, and third sector to enable more strategic activity, while ensuring that the communities and environments that are intended to benefit are at the heart of all plans, reporting, and measurement. We are in a position where technological advances, availability of resources and greater intention make it possible to address problems in ways that allow for an inter-connectedness to be harnessed, an unprecedented level of transparency, and the ability to make more informed decisions. Now, all that is left is for us to demand a different way of working, one that brings about the changes required for us to truly move the needle on the world’s most pressing problems.