Why we need more fearless conversations about social value

Who wants to end child poverty?

Everyone does. Because we aren’t monsters.


  • If we don’t know HOW to end child poverty, then we won’t.
  • If we’re told HOW, but the actions we need to take feel arduous, or complex, or expensive, or conflict with how we see ourselves in the world – we still won’t.
  • If we think, someone else will probably take care of that, someone who is more “good” than me – we definitely won’t.

Without addressing these huge obstacles, it’s very easy to say “yes, of course we want to end child poverty!” over and over again, yet nothing actually happens.

Talking and wanting is easy.

But actually DOING something about it feels hard, abstract, risky. Out of our reach.

Bridging the gap needs open, honest conversations that lead to action.

It ain’t easy being a Care Bear...

When you’re dealing with “movements for good” like social value, having these conversations in an effective way is harder than you might think.

It involves a level of honesty and vulnerability that can be really challenging for businesses – and the people in them. Because these are big, complex issues that are often emotionally loaded.

It takes guts to say: “Actually, making money is more important to us than ending child poverty, because we need to stay profitable and keep paying our staff. So what can we do instead?”.

Approaching these discussions in the right way impacts how we think about ourselves as businesses – and as human beings.

Let’s get better at speaking up – and listening

At a recent event we attended, there was a panel discussion on achieving net zero. As social value consultants this isn’t our area of expertise, so I was looking forward to hearing a range of opinions.

One of the panellists stated that net zero targets can be reached without incurring extra costs for a business. Presumably this is because efficiency gains and attributing costs as overheads will balance any outlay – although I have to say this implication was not entirely clear to a layman attendee like me.

An audience member spoke up to challenge this. They wanted to say that – actually – businesses incur significant costs!

At that point, the panel host had an opportunity to open up the debate. Instead, they suggested the individuals concerned should take it up over coffee. Then they swiftly went back to the main agenda.

In the panel host’s defence, time was tight. It often is at these sorts of events. But I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in the room who was disappointed. We’d hit an interesting, pervasive problem and it had been skipped over.

What will the audience member take away? That sustainability practitioners have their heads in the clouds and aren’t interested in hearing about the immense challenges businesses face in hitting ambitious net zero targets.

What will the panellist take away? That businesses are stuck in their ways and will only ever focus on the bottom line.

Meanwhile the audience as a whole sees that speaking up with a challenging statement is something to be avoided lest any awkwardness ensue.

Nobody listens. So nobody speaks up. So nothing changes.

Creating a safe space for fearless conversations

It’s entirely possible to have this sort of debate without it turning into an argument if we approach it with honesty and vulnerability, and really listen to where the other person is coming from. In fact, it’s vital that we do. When we turn away from difficult questions or opposing viewpoints, dominant narratives go unchallenged and we end up no further on.

It’s no wonder we find ourselves in the same rooms with the same people having the same “safe” conversations, year after year. No solutions devised. No practical actions happen as a result. Round and round we go.

It’s hard to start those challenging conversations in a public forum. It’s hard to take up space in a room filled with peers, sometimes partners, people who your business relies on. And it’s hard when you don’t feel you are necessarily afforded a seat at the table to begin with.

So it’s up to us as an industry to create spaces where people – everyone – feels safe raising their concerns. Where these debates can happen without fear of burning bridges or being labelled awkward or disruptive.

At CHY we have forged an identity in asking tricky questions. In many ways it’s easier for us because it’s such a big part of who we are (although it can still be bloody scary!) But it’s important to note that we don’t do it to be controversial.

We do it because we want things to change.

We’re always looking for ways to participate in conversations rooted in challenging and changing things for the better. If you’re looking for an expert to speak about social value at your event in 2024, get in touch.

We’d love to hear from you.