What are the UN SDGs?
The United Nations’ 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda is one of the world’s most recognised commitments to global sustainable transformation. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals act as a benchmark for the measurement of social impact reporting and are designed to help organisations and governments alike tackle a breadth of socio-political issues across themes such as poverty, environmental protection, and economic equality.
However, for a lot of organisations, navigating through the vastness of the SDGs can be an intimidating task – with actions that are either irrelevant or impractical for organisations to realise. This article will give you the base knowledge to get started with its adoption.
The advantages of the UN SDGs
Widespread usage: Organisations are increasingly adopting the UN’s SDGs as their preferred taxonomy for social and environmental impact measurement – so adopting this would be the path of least resistance for many stakeholders.
Comprehensive and holistic: The metrics used in the SDGs have been developed with global sustainability in mind. If there is a sustainability consideration, it should be reflected in the Goals or Targets described by the SDGs.
Tried and tested: The SDGs have been tested in a range of situations, and – by selecting the appropriate metrics – is applicable to all examples of social or environmental impact.
Why measuring impact matters
Businesses have a lot to offer in terms of tackling the world’s biggest problems. Economies, market forces, supply and demand, marketing and advertising all contribute to the adoption of new products and services, and new technologies, to the point where consumer products have better market share than basic utilities.
Corporate responsibility activities can help redress this balance. In India, where more than half a billion people lack basic sanitation, some of the country’s biggest companies spend 2% of their profits on initiatives to eradicate extreme poverty and combating diseases, which includes improving sanitation.
Other companies improve their positive social impact by developing products and services aimed at the “bottom billion” of consumers in emerging markets in the least developed countries. However, there is a lack of understanding around how meaningful these initiatives and services are – the social impact is omitted from the conversation.
While businesses are familiar with financial reporting – the practice has developed over centuries into a set of understood accountancy laws and processes – there is a lack of consideration for social impact reporting (otherwise known as non-financial reporting).
This has traditionally resulted in ill-informed social or sustainability initiatives that fail to make an impact, struggle to support end-users, and that underwhelms key stakeholders who have invested in social impact under the oversold promise of a business return.
The need for social impact reporting
Management consultant and business writer Peter Drucker said: “what gets measured gets managed.”
Effective social impact is driven by a culture of rigorous data collection. It offers an objective and unbiased view into the outcomes of experiments with a view to more informed decision-making.
It can also be used to monitor performance on an ongoing basis, drive continuous improvement and quickly surface any issues, leading to better results for your participants and for your organisation.
Measuring and reporting impact means you can report back to funders/investors on time with quality reports and use the strength of your impact measurement – and your findings – to attract additional funding/investment.
Having reliable data on what works (and what doesn’t) helps you share and collaborate with other organisations in the sector, in order to bring about the wider systemic change that comes from scaling social change.
Finally, evidenced social impact gives you powerful data and stories to promote your organisation through your communications and PR.
This article should have given you some places to start thinking about what kind of activities you can get involved in and what will generate the most social impact. Or in other words, It should help you think about what change you’re trying to make in the world, who will benefit from it and how you’ll know if it’s working.