What is Social Value?

Hannah Oldfield

Let’s start with what it isn’t: 

  • A set of outputs and KPIs
  • A coffee morning or sponsored bike ride
  • About generating good PR
  • About charity
  • An afterthought
  • A hoop to jump through
  • A set of boxes to tick
  • Something that’s out to spoil your profit margin

If you’re thinking about social value like this on any level, it’s probably not helping you or your organisation – and it won’t be getting anywhere close to what we need social value to do.

So what IS social value?

Social value is about making good decisions

Social value isn’t something you create out of nothing, an event you decide to put on or an abstract “good” you decide to do.

In fact, in many ways it’s easier than that. Because the potential for social value is already everywhere. It is all around us.

When you start making decisions that generate more of that value, by thinking differently about what you have and the good it can do, that’s when you start to generate positive social impact. 

Opportunities for making better decisions are present in every part of every business, every single day. It could be about using the resources you already have to benefit your local community. It could be about designing your upcoming projects with social value front and centre. It could be about looking after your staff better. It could be about making happier people and places a fundamental part of your company’s vision and strategy.

There are hundreds of positive decisions out there waiting to be made. You just need to look for them.

Social value is about sustainability

Not just sustainability in terms of planet and place, but in terms of quality, long-term impacts that will benefit people in the future – not just here and now, or for as long as a project lasts. 

Can you create jobs that will last long-term? Can you repurpose leftover site materials and help local people use them to create a pocket park or garden? Can you establish a transparent community engagement channel that can be used for years to come, meaning people will continue to have a voice?

What impact can you make? What legacy can you leave?

How can you leave the world better than you found it?

Social value is about making people happier

Arguably the most important point of all. Social value is about making people’s lives better – and not just through charity (which can sometimes drift into giving money in the hope that the problem will solve itself).

This is about taking responsibility for the people and places around us. It’s a profound shift in how we think about incorporating reciprocity in the work we do. The deeper and more foundational the decisions we make and actions we take, the greater the impact we’ll have. Because of the society we’ve grown up in, this might feel “big” or even “radical”, but it shouldn't. At its core, it is basic human decency.

And it’s not just about external impact. By embedding these principles, we also create happier businesses. And that happiness is contagious – we’ll earn the trust and loyalty of our customers, clients, partners, investors and staff.

When it’s done as it should be, social value doesn’t cause business obstacles. It creates business opportunities.

And it all starts with taking action.

So what action will you take today?