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We are a Dynamic Social Impact Consultancy: defining SOCIAL PURPOSE, measuring SOCIAL VALUES, improving SOCIAL IMPACT.

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Here at My Social Impact we have noticed a theme in corporate Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) activity. As Dr […]

Using TOMS to avoid “Social Impact Washing”

Here at My Social Impact we have noticed a theme in corporate Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) activity. As Dr Chris Arnold, our Head of Creative Strategy, puts it, “Where the E goes, the S surely follows. The initial surge in interest amongst businesses for environmental projects was tracked by a similar burst in social impact activities a few years later.” 

Then came concerns of “greenwashing”, where organisations were accused of superficial environmental gestures to satisfy regulatory and PR demands whilst making no tangible changes to the core business. Predictably there subsequently arrived similar accusations of “social impact washing” due to concerns that firms were prioritising token efforts towards social responsibility to improve their image, without truly addressing underlying social issues. 

Now we are seeing the next stage of this process…”stalling”. A February 2024 report by Carbon Trust, a green consultancy, revealed that many concerned businesses are “greenstalling” their environmental projects for fear of unfair scrutiny and misrepresentation. Inevitably, we will soon see “social impact stalling”, as firms pause well-meaning efforts to create social value because they assume a cynical media and public will attempt pick holes in the credibility of their actions.

Fortunately, there is a solution. The National TOMS (Themes, Outcomes and Measures) Framework is indispensable for organisations committed to creating genuine social value and avoiding the dangers of “social impact washing”. TOMS was developed by The Social Value Portal, a social impact company, and is endorsed by the Local Government Association. It was originally a response to the 2012 Social Value Act. It is now used by hundreds of public and private sector organisations as the premier social value measurement standard in the UK, so far measuring and reporting social value on over 3,000 projects across the country.

Once the preserve of procurement and construction, social impact projects are increasingly seen across all areas of business. Dr Arnold explains, “TOMS helps by providing a structured approach to social value measurement and reporting, no matter what your business does. By breaking initiatives down into Themes, Outcomes, and Measures, TOMS ensures organisations focus on tangible results rather than merely paying lip service to social issues.” This transparent assessment process helps firms to demonstrate their genuine commitment to creating positive change and avoid accusations of tokenism.

Moreover, TOMS promotes accountability and results. By setting clear objectives and measuring outcomes, businesses can hold themselves accountable for their impact and ensure they are actively working towards meaningful change rather than simply seeking positive media coverage. 

TOMS also fosters collaboration and knowledge-sharing among stakeholders, by providing a standardised framework for social value measurement. This collaborative approach enables firms to engage with their communities and stakeholders in a meaningful way, rather than simply using them as a backdrop for their own agenda. TOMS enables better benchmarking as well, and this will grow further as the framework becomes more widely used. The Social Value Portal works with the Local Government Association to facilitate a National Social Value Taskforce to further enhance this collaboration.

At My Social Impact we promote the use of TOMS with all our clients. Founder Marcus Warry says, “We see it is as a powerful tool to help businesses create genuine social impact and avoid the pitfalls of “social impact washing”. As public and regulatory pressure grows on corporates to create and report on social value, TOMS is going to be vital in doing this successfully.” 

Contact us to find out more. 

duncan@mysocialimpact.org

 

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