If you’re looking for a short answer – you won’t get one! Social value roles are as varied as the companies that hire them. So what can we do to bring this emerging sector together?
In this blog, CHY Social Value Consultant Holly Onstenk unpacks the findings of whatimpact’s “Social Value Manager” whitepaper and tells us what the Young Professionals in Social Value (YPSV) network are doing to join up the dots for hundreds of people working in social value roles in the UK.
As the social value sector has grown, the number of social value roles being advertised has exploded. Businesses are realising they need in-house experts to devise, deliver and report on social value activities to ensure they:
-Comply with social value legislation
-Remain competitive in their market
-Keep staff and stakeholders engaged
-Develop purpose-led organisations that will thrive for years to come
In October this year, whatimpact published a whitepaper exploring what it means to be a social value professional in the UK in 2023. Gathering data from social value practitioners around the country, the report confirms what we’ve long suspected – that social value roles are as varied as the companies that employ them.
Holly Onstenk is a social Value consultant at CHY, and also secretary and steering group member of Young People in Social Value (YPSV). She says the report confirms what YPSV have found anecdotally.
“The report really validates how young professionals are feeling in the sector. Just the variety of job titles alone (an incredible 50 different titles for the 150 surveyed) shows the level of variation. In one company the social value lead might be doing top-level strategic work, in another they’re there purely to win business for the company, in another you might be there to do delivery.
“As a social value professional, this means it can be hard to benchmark what you’re doing in your role, or compare your career journey with others. It can be frustrating and isolating. The whitepaper was a really good way of pulling together all those different experiences that would fall under the social value heading, to show people how varied they can be.”
“While seeing it in black and white might feel a bit disheartening for those of us who are already feeling those frustrations, it’s a really good thing that we’re talking about it. It’s particularly helpful for companies recruiting to see that a social value role doesn’t necessarily need to be one fixed idea they might have. I hope it will broaden their thinking around who they might hire and the type of skills they can offer.
“It also shows that social value is best when it’s not one person’s responsibility because there are so many skills you need to deliver it well – the strategic side, the delivery, managing budgets – it’s too much to ask from one person, and you’d struggle to find all that experience a single individual too.”
One thing that really stood out in the research is the high number of people who have degrees and postgraduate degrees who are working in social value.
“It indicates to me that it’s not a hugely accessible role,” says Holly. “In social value we work with disadvantaged communities. But if the majority of people working in those roles haven’t come from those communities, they’re not necessarily going to be in touch with the problems they face. That was quite striking to me.”
Holly is secretary and steering group member of Young Professionals in Social Value (YPSV). The group was founded earlier this year (2023) by Olivia Sutcliffe with the aim of helping young people working in social value roles break out of silos and come together to develop their careers and shape the future of the sector. Living by their values to “connect, create and collaborate”, YPSV are keen to remedy some of the issues highlighted in the whitepaper.
So far this year, YPSV have spoken at key social value events including the National Social Value conference and the whatimpact whitepaper launch, as well as hosting meet-ups for its members to connect and knowledge share.
Their latest project is a social value mentoring scheme that matches those new to the industry with seasoned social value professionals, in the hope of breaking down barriers and helping young people navigate their careers with confidence.
“We closed applications at 110 sign-ups – we’re really happy with the response,” says Holly. “We’re suggesting an hour’s meeting per month, with the aim of helping mentees upskill in things like strategy, delivery, procurement, ESG – wherever they want to focus. We want all the participants to get the most out of the sessions so we’ve got them to outline their objectives before they start, to make sure they’re building towards a goal. We’re in the process of matching people up now.”
“YPSV has grown so much more quickly than expected – we currently have 217 members. So now it’s time to regroup and actually think about where we’re up to, how we’re going to operate as a group of volunteers, what our main aims are going to be and where to put our focus for the next year or so. It’s about thinking – what can we do effectively? And what resources do we need to be able to do that?”
Over the next few years we hope we’ll start to see a more joined up social value sector, and real weight given to social value as a business function. It’s great to see a light being shone on what the issues are and inspiring to see a group like YPSV – which has grown so rapidly as it’s clearly needed! – becoming a real driving force in changing things for the better.