There’s evidence to show that today’s youth are increasingly interested in making a positive social impact through their careers and business models. Social media rapidly exposes both the good and bad practices of businesses and young people are responding like never before in demanding that businesses, organizations and even political leaders are combining profits with a purpose. As customers, they are seeking out businesses that strive for the greater good of our communities and those abroad and opting to spend their vacation time in ways that assist others.
As social impact projects, initiatives and business models start sweeping the world, what exactly does it all mean?
What is social impact?
Broadly speaking, social impact is how organizations, businesses or individuals’ actions affect the surrounding community. It may be the result of an activity, project, program or policy and the impact can be intentional or unintentional, as well as both positive or negative. The social impact can be felt by people directly associated with that organization or individual, or have a more far-reaching effect on people in different communities, states and even countries.
But more commonly, the term “social impact” is used to define actions which have a positive impact on communities. It’s similar to “social good”, but the change is more drastic and something we should all be striving for.
Social impact in different spheres of life
As individuals, you can make a positive social impact through many facets of life – from your choice of career to how you spend your vacation time. It might be as simple as boycotting a business you know is having a negative social impact and sharing your knowledge with friends and family, or it could be starting up your own business with positive social impact at the core.
How you choose to spend your leisure time is also telling, as travel can have both a positive and negative social impact. Planes emit huge amounts of carbon dioxide and travel can have detrimental effects on indigenous cultures, but it can also create jobs and help increase cultural awareness and tolerance around the world. As a result, the way you choose to travel can result in a vastly different social impact
Opting to support community tourism initiatives and staying in locally-owned guesthouses helps create jobs within communities, while eco-tourism projects can help conserve vital habitats for both wildlife and people. If you respect indigenous cultures and way of life during tourism activities, you can help create a positive social impact for their future.
This is also true of volunteer abroad programs which seek to make beneficial impacts on local communities in a diverse range of fields. It offers volunteers an insight into how other people live and helps them gain essential life skills while working alongside local people on projects which matter to them.
The social impact is mutual, with local communities seeing beneficial changes throughout the duration of the project and volunteers returning home enlightened as global citizens. Newly developed skills and a more open-minded attitude about the world can then be used to benefit their communities back home, whether it be as part of a focused project, a business startup idea or just in day-to-day interactions with others.
Business owners and their employees can also incorporate social good into their operations, striving to create wide-reaching benefits for their customers, the surrounding community and environment. In today’s world, customers are aware that the purchases they choose to make can speak volumes, and many are looking to support businesses that incorporate positive social impact ideals into their business model.
It needs to be at the core of operations and help determine each and every business decision that is made. It’s important to define what the social impact of your business operation is and whether your entire team believes in it to ensure it is authentic and can be realized. It should be engrained in everything you do as a business and part of the company culture because if it’s not being practiced there, it cannot reach out and connect with the rest of the community.
But most importantly, the social impact you seek to create as a business should be done for the right reasons and not just to jump on the bandwagon of “social good” to reap the financial rewards. It should be meaningful to you and your team and be sustainable well into the future.
As a business, social impact may not necessarily be realized in the product or service you are marketing, but can also be in the way the business functions. Some employers encourage or even offer grants for their staff to participate in volunteer abroad placements during their vacation periods and match the hours worked with a financial donation from the company to a designated charity. Others encourage employees to donate their paid time off to working with a charity of their choosing. Word of each new experience and volunteer encounter permeates through the business and helps inspire others to do the same.
How can you make a social impact?
One of the most important things to keep in mind about social impact is not just talking about what you believe in, but taking action on it. With the rise of social media, it’s really easy to “share” and “like” posts and feel like you’re doing your bit, but to really make a social impact, it needs to be more about action.
The way you spend your money sends a strong message to businesses and companies about their social impact practices. Whether it means opting for the fair trade option or divesting from companies who are having a negative social impact, each and every decision you make as a consumer can speak loudly. The internet is a wealth of information about ethical business practices and you can find out everything from company environmental policies to how they treat their workers, and then make decisions about how you do (and don’t) want to support.
You can also get active in your local community, whether it be with a political organization with whom you share a vision or a charity you feel strongly about. Often charities have enough people power but not enough money, so your social impact can be through raising funds or a personal donation.
One of the most important things to remember about social impact is that no individual action is too little. The problems of the world may seem vast and overwhelming, but each person doing their bit can make a huge difference and is something we can all feel good about.