Defining Social Impact

What Is social impact? Is this just another term to sell something? Perhaps... and, even if it is, if it is making a difference, perhaps that isn't a bad sell? Yes? No?

I am frequently asked what "social impact" actually means. For over twenty years, I have been involved in attaching brands to 'causes' or creating entertaining content with a social message, or being part of productions which are around strong global messages, like The Square for example, or Pangea Day, which was the start of TEDx talks -- so, to me a definition of "social impact" needs to be simple and accessible for all to understand and for all to consider to incorporate into their own lives and businesses.

My introduction to acknowledging the power of social impact, was to some, a very minute moment when thirty five years ago I saw how one person created an impactful living space in order to make herself feel better, and how it made an impact on me was remarkable:

When I was asked why I wanted to see my favorite Nanny's bedroom, I simply smiled as I knew it would encompass her world and teach me something... and it did.

Evelyn had painted it blue with the accent of red. 'She' had faded photographs of her family, or perhaps they were friends or cut out of magazines. Her shoes and handbags were thrown around luxuriously like one would find in Ralph Lauren homes --- pillows. A light bulb danced in the middle of the four feet by six-foot space. Naked without its shade, yet not sexy. It sang solidarity to me, and yet it wrapped Evelyn in a warm blanket. Evelyn had created a space which impacted her and gave her hope.

This single snapshot hangs behind my pituitary gland and to this day I appreciate its lessons and the fact I realize how brilliant Evelyn was for knowing how to make her-self feel better away from her family and village, and knowing how lucky I was to be with my family.

So, why do I remain interested in this "activism," "social impact" way of thinking? Well, I have come to realize, it is a way of consciousness, thoughtfulness and feeling, not mere intellectual thought. One of my idols was both a feeler and an intellectual, and her thinking remains one of the foremost minds in history. Yes, Cleopatra! From my seven-year-old eyes until now, all I can tell is that she wished for land to be opulent for all. Somehow she knew this philosophy would result in opulence for 'self'. Early on she had somehow decided how to govern with a collaborative and yet 'fair hand' -- for example; her way how to dictate taxes was to measure the Niles waters. Her main bank was built with a channel and tunnel underneath its grandiose lobby -- the end of the Channel was exposed in the middle of the lobby. Its walls showing gradient markings -- like one does with their child as they leap inches whilst they sleep. The higher the marking, the higher the waters, therefore, the higher the taxes. Yes, the more full her 'pool,' the more she would allow taxes to occur as people of all kinds would be able to live if their own crops were growing.

As far as I know, this was the first of our social impact thinking. How our collective eco-systems were taken into account before a law was made.

To me, social impact is very simple:

1. Can this product you wish me to invest in be made in your local city/town/area?
2. Is this product respectful of the local environment including of course, climate and seasons?
3. Will the making of this product create jobs in your area, and new skill sets?
4. Is this product wanted in your area?
5. Can you afford to purchase this product in your locale?
6. Can you figure out if others outside your area might want it before you make the choice to try and sell it outside your area? Can you make this product as sustainably as possible?
7. Is this a product one is proud of being associated with?

Yup, these seven questions are the basis of my criteria. I feel that once these have been marked off and you've proven your business is profitable, then the rest is so much easier. If you choose to be green certified? Etc. that is all a bonus to all of us of course, but first of all, perhaps let's see if we/you can create something that your own house, neighborhood and village can benefit from.

In 2006, a company I founded became one of the first green certified companies in San Francisco, and even there I felt the process was ridiculously complicated, not to mention time consuming and expensive, so I broke it down into a 12 steps so anyone could at least begin the process.

I hired a wonderful person, Ned Clarke to literally work pro-bono helping organizations do these Green Prepare steps. I feel GATEglobalimpact will end up doing the same for Social Impact on a much larger level.