Social impact and social change

History, definition and alternative forms of social entrepreneurship
Scaling a social entrepreneurial organization


  1. Globalization, social change and welfare
  2. Social problems and social challenges
  3. Deviance
  4. Social inequality
  5. Social innovations, impact and social change
  6. Measuring social impact
  7. Activities for readers
  8. References

The 21st century will be the century of the social organizations. The more the economy, money and information globalize, the greater the importance of society”

Peter Drucker

Globalization, social change and welfare

The influence of the global economy in the formulation of national social policy has been intensified in the last decade. There are two tendencies in this field. One is towards globalization of interests and combining them in supranational organizations. The other tendency is reciprocal – formation of clusters and local communities.

Social problems and social challenges

Social policies can be seen as collective responses to social problems. A problem is social when it is socially recognized. Many fundamental social problems are ‘socially constructed’. Since people’s values, beliefs and opinions are conditioned by the society they live in, they come to share common basic perceptions. This can shape the way people think about issues

Defining a social challenge has two aspects: seeing the problem and see¬ing the opportunity. Understanding why the problem exists and the channels through which it manifests itself will allow to build a solution around the problem by identifying untapped resources and creating opportunities for improvement of the existing situation. Example: The social problem could be a group of people that have been outcast from the society (such as prisoners or immigrants). The social challenge is how to include those people in the social life and increase their interaction with others and the solution may be to use the untapped resources such as network of volunteers and stage number of opportunities where those people can participate and relate to other members of the society.
Most of the social and environmental challenges are multidimensional. Environmental pollution, poverty, social isolation, illiteracy, obesity, unemployment, ciminal behaviour and violence are rooted in multiple causes that cannot be addressed with the same intervention. The more is known about the situation, the higher the chance of success in making changes which result in tangible improvements for the affected population.

Framework for defining the social challenge:

  1. What are you trying to change?

    The social challenge should be defined in one sentence and be formulated as clearly and concisely as possible so that it could be easily communicated to those who are already involved (target group, stakeholders, etc.) or we plan to involve in the future (co-workers, volunteers, organisations, sponsors, community).
  2. Who is affected?

    Who is affected by this challenge? Does it affect certain groups more than others (based on age, gender, race, education or nationality)? Does the income and social status of the population is related to the challenge (low income groups are more vulnerable to exclusion and social isolation). What other factors relate to the challenge? (ex. religion, ethnic and racial background, physical fitness, intellectual abilities/ disabilities, education, training, family status etc.)
  3. Where are these people?

    In addition to sociodemographic distribution, the geographic distribution (localisation) need to be defined. Where is the problem? How widespread or limited it is? Does it affect people in different places or is specific for a certain locality? Ofthen the local situation may vary considerably from what is the national average.
  4. Why has this challenge arisen? What causes it?

    The answer of these question should bring us to the roots of the challenge. This is probably one of the most important question to ask. The root may not always be obvious and that is why digging deeper and deeper in the problem could prove useful. The deepest the root cause is identified, the most effective solution could be created and the resulting impact will be maximized.
  5. How does the cause affect the challenge and its outcomes?

    Listing the root causes is not enough. An analysis on how each of this cause is linked to the challenge has to be further elaborated and demonstrate the mechanism by which the causes result in the outcomes. Sometimes this include exploring multiple pathways that lead to the same outcomes and each of it will provide a different opportunity to make a social change.


Deviations refers to a violation of social; rules and social “norms”. Signs of deviation in the social behaviour of individuals or groups calls for development and implementation of specific social measures. Deviations are directly linked to social problems, examples include: drug use among youngsters, criminal behaviour, domestic violence, racial prejudice, bullying at school etc. The deviations might be rooted in various causes. Theories explaining deviations are:

  • Genetic theory: Some social traits are innate. This would mean a relatively constant set of problems and continuity across generations.
  • Subcultural theory. People are deviants because they are part of deviant subculture. They have different values, beliefs and patterns of behaviour that are formed when adapting to different social circumstances.
  • Functional theory. Societies determine what is acceptable and what is not. Functionality beyond standard social understanding is not a social problem as long as the foundations of society are not undermined.

Social inequality

  • Inequality should be regarded as a fault within the society to treat people in just and adequate manner. The existence of inequality determines the level of discrimination in society. The models of inequality that result from discriminatory practices are three:
  • Hierarchical inequality: society is constructed in a pyramidal form, with the base and top substantially distant. The sharper the pyramid, the more unequal the society. The idea of equality can be realized if the pyramid gradually joins the top to the lowlands and reverse.
  • Stratification: People are grouped according to their social status. Only individuals and groups of the same level in society can have equal opportunities.
  • Social division. Society is divided by gender, age, ethnic belonging, religion, race, nationality, income/wealth and more. This type of inequality could not be overcome without changing the attitude of the individuals towards themselves and the others.

The social policies aimed at addressing inequalities are focused on three main objectives:

  • Equal and just treatment of groups and individuals disregarding gender, age, social and economic background and providing for their needs.
  • Equal opportunities ensuring that each group or individual have fair chance to compete with others within and/or outside the community.
  • Equal Result. Social policy strives to achieve the best outcome in the particular social environment.

Social innovations, impact and social change

The social enterprises are geared to solve social problems. Their solution could result in:

  • Product
  • Service
  • Technology
  • Process
  • Organization
  • Marketing (pricing, promotion, distribution) strategy

Usually the solutions are social innovations, because they employ new approach towards social problems.

Social innovations are new and better solutions to existing social challenges.

The innovations can be:

  1. Product or service: New product or service or new approach in production. Example: the product is made more tailored to the target audience, more affordable, sustainable (durable), or more effective in producing the desired change
  2. Business model: The enterprise has created viability through a business model that has not been used before. Example: combining various resources in a different way, fining new funding sources, identifying new tap resources etc.
  3. Operations (internal innovations): The social venture designs operational processes that allows the deliverance of the highest social impact at the lowest cost. Example: Internal system and processes to increase efficiencies, innovative monitoring and evaluation systems, creating effective feedback system etc.
  4. Distribution: The product, service or system penetrates the target market through distribution channels that have not yet been utilized and that allow the product/ service to reach the most target audience. Examples: employing new forms of transporters, retailers, re-design of existing distribution channels, employing social media, social networking etc. to maximize the number of the end users and reaching the marginalized and remote population.

The six stages of social innovation

The steps given below are a useful framework for analysis and group discussions among peers to find a solution of a social problem through a social innovation. They are as follows:

  1. Prompts, inspiration and diagnosis: why we need social change (crisis, poor performances, social problems etc.), diagnostics of the issue and framing the root causes of the problem
  2. Proposals and ideas: the stage of idea generation. Here various creative methods such as brainstorming, mind mapping, daydreaming, role playing, etc. are involved.
  3. Prototyping and pilots: this is where the ideas and solutions are tested in practice. This is done via controlled trials when feedback is received showing us whether the solutions need improvement
  4. Sustaining: The idea is becoming an everyday practice. The social venture has to ensure its long term financial viability and to make everything possible to continue the successful practice
  5. Scaling and diffusion: This is the stage of growth and expansion of the social innovation and producing more social change. It could be done via various mechanisms such as licensing and franchising, dissemination of good practices, trainings etc.
  6. Systematic change: This is the ultimate goal of the social innovation. It usually involves the interaction of many elements: social movement, business models, laws and regulations, infrastructure, technologies, and entire new paradigm of thinking and doing.

Source: Murray R., Caulier-Grice J., Mulgan G. (2010), The open book of social innovation, The Young Foundation

The solutions could be various, but in general are focusing on:

  • Provision of products and services for disadvantaged groups/ individuals
  • Providing employment/ job opportunities/ education and training for disadvantaged groups and individuals
  • Raising social awareness for environmental or social issues
  • Community support
  • Activities and events aimed towards social inclusion

The solution is closely linked to the social impact. The impact leads to social change which could be measured and assessed thus assessing the contribution (or the impact) of the social venture.

Social impact is the effect on people and communities that happens as a result of an action.

Examples of positive impacts are:

  • Poverty reduction among specific group of people
  • Enhanced health and well being
  • Gender equality
  • Social justice
  • Improved relationship between different stakeholders (ex. Marginalized groups, community and authority)
  • Support and promotion of environmentally friendly practices
  • Social inclusion

Theory of change

The Theory of change (ToC) explains and illustrates how and why a desired change is expected to happen within a societal context. It focuses on the “middle” between the input and outcomes of a process or how the transformation of resources occurs and how this leads to the desired results. ToC first defines the long-term goals and then maps backward to identify necessary preconditions. It explains the processes of change by outlining causal linkages in an initiatives and actions and is particularly suitable for evaluation in non-for-profit, philanthropy, governmental institutions or social enterprises to promote social change.
It is more than a planning and evaluation tool, because it shows the distribution of the power dynamics and include the various perspectives of the participants.

The theory of change follows the patterns:

The success of the Theory of change lies within its ability to demonstrate progress/achievement. Therefore, ToC should be coupled with measurable indicators which can show that the initiative is effective. ToC can be use at any stage of the planning, organizing, launching and evaluation of the work of the social enterprise. It is a valuable tool in the decision making process of the social organization.

Example of how the Theory of change works:

Measuring social impact

Measuring social impact is not an easy task, since the outcome is more than numbers but refers to changed lives, improvement in quality standards, enhancing wellbeing, empowering, social inclusion and even making people happier. It is very difficult to measure successfully those subjective experiences, attitudes and perceptions. One way to measure the impact is by the number of people from the target audience who have been reached by the products and services of the social enterprise, but even then, the number cannot tell us about their level of satisfaction.

The impact is a comparative index. It is measured when it is compared with the initial state or situation. If you want to measure the impact you have created or the increased social benefits, you should compare the statistics before and after a certain period of work of your organization (or after completing a certain time-framed project). For example, if you work toward less violence and crime within a certain city districts, you should consider the initial data of criminal acts, alcohol abuse, violence record etc., and compare it with the data after your intervention. If there is a visible decrease of the negative practices this could be attributed as a social impact directly linked as a result of the work of your company. Even in this case, however, there is a chance that the conclusions are wrong and the changes are in fact due to other reasons.
Some metrics for measuring of the social impact include Social Return on Investment (SROI) and Impact Reporting and Investment Standards Library (IRIS). SROI measures the ration between the input and output values (example: how many jobs have been created for each 100 EUR invested in the company). The IRIS is an online databased containing more than 400 performances metrics for measuring of social, environmental and financial impact.

Social impact could be observed in a short and long term. Creating a lasting social change as a result of the work of the enterprise may take years and even decades and stretches far beyond the usual business planning. The short-term goals can serve as indicators that you are on the right path in achieving the ultimate goal. Those indicators may not necessarily mean achieving the lasting change we want to see in the society someday, but are an intermediate outcome that is measurable and could testify that you are heeding in the right direction.

We can measure the social impact by:

  • The volume of produced and sold goods and services
  • The number of jobs created
  • The number of target users reached by our activity
  • The number of trained individuals
  • Percentage of growth (ex. growth of the “green” sector)
  • Reduction of unemployment rate
  • Reduction of poverty level
  • Increase access to social services especially by marginalized groups

Measuring social impact is important because:

  • It gives a feedback, quantitative and qualitative data about the programs and activities. In this way you can find the needs of improvement and gaps of performances (between what was expected and what are the results)
  • It helps to better understand and target the social work, plan better and implement more efficiently resources
  • It gives data to report back to funders and other stakeholders and be accountable
  • By measuring impact, we gather stories and data that can be used as a marketing and communication tool
  • Impressive impact retains the investors’ confidence, attracts new donners and increases the project funding opportunities (such as tendering for public sector contracts)
  • Data could be shared with other collaborators, partners and social enterprises (as dissemination of best practices).

“The Young Social Entrepreneur’s Book of Guidelines and Checklists”

Develop success from failures. Discouragement and failure are two of the surest stepping stones to success

Dale Carnegie
  • Developing creative thinking in identifying social needs and opportunities to address social problems.
  • Learning and applying skills related to innovatively addressing social needs, drafting and presenting a proposal to sponsors, raising funds, mastering basic financial and legal knowledge, managing teams, resources and results.
  • Analysis and evaluation of the organizational structure of activities, roles, teams and resources. Attracting, motivating and retaining people – followers of addressed social change.
  • Presenting, persuading, creating and developing long-term partnerships with third parties such as media, sponsors, donors, volunteers.
  • Creation, recruit and management of resources, creation and manage a business plan.

Activities for the readers:

In-class game: The Lemon Game

Source: Anti-Bias Werkstatt. Methodenbox: Demokratie lernen und Anti-Bias Arbeit

Description of the activity:

  • Give each group member a lemon. (You can use any other fruit like apple, pears, bananas or generic objects such as pebbles, buttons, pencils etc.). Ask everyone to look closely at their fruit, examine it for distinctive mark, colouring, smell, to feel the skin etc.
  • Encourage each person to personalize his or her lemon by giving it a name. Allow few minutes for this activity and then collect the fruits into one basket/ bag
  • Shake the basket to mix the fruits
  • Spread the lemons out on the floor
  • Ask each person to come forward and collect his/her lemon
  • When everyone finds his/her lemon, make discussion. Suggested questions are: How can you be sure that this is your fruit? Was it easy or difficult to find your lemon? What specific characteristics your lemon has? What can our experience with lemons tell us about treating people?

Aim of the game: To value individual differences and special characteristics. To talk about stereotyping and equality of opportunities. To sensitize for heterogeneity within (supposed homogeneous) groups. To acknowledge the individual within a group of people.

Examine the stereotypes:

  • Are all lemons the same colour? Are they the same shape? Facilitate a discussion. Reflect this into the stereotypes that exists between people of different cultures, races and genders.
  • What does these lemons have to do with your daily work or life?
  • Did you ever have ever had a first impression of a person or group of people and after getting to know the person/group better you felt that you misjudged someone?
  • Do we need categories or generalizations? When do they help us? What danger/problems are hidden behand generalizations?

To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you, I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world… But remember: you become responsible for what you have tamed.

Antoine Saint Exupery

Watch the videos

“Victoria and Albert Museum”: “How does social change happen?”,, part of the museum’s exhibition “You Say You Want A Revolution?””, news Peeks spoke with Noam Chomsky, Kathleen Cleaver, Devon Thomas, Angela Phillips, Erin Pizzey, Peter Tatchell, Sylvia Boyes, Peter Kennard, and Red Saunders.`

Write an essay

20-25 sentences, Topic: The globalization and the social change


Suggest a list of factors that would encourage social change. How would you contribute to the presence of these factors in your country of origin?

References and self-learn resources

Branch, K., 2019. Guide to social impact assessment: a framework for assessing social change. Routledge.

Brown, D.L. and Schafft, K.A., 2011. Rural people and communities in the 21st century: Resilience and transformation. Polity.

Castells, M.(Ed.), 2004. The network society: A cross-cultural perspective. North Hampton, MA: Edgar Elgar.

Campbell, A., & Converse, P. E. (Eds.), 1972. The human meaning of social change. Russell Sage Foundation.

Carty, V., 2018. Social movements and new technology. Routledge.

Daneke, G., Priscoli, J.D. and Garcia, M., 2019. Public involvement and social impact assessment. Routledge.

Cronin, M.J. and Dearing, T.C. eds., 2017. Managing for social impact: Innovations in responsible enterprise. Springer.

Hofstede, G., 2011. Dimensionalizing Cultures: The Hofstede Model in Context, Online Readings in Psychology and Culture (ORPC)

Murray R., Caulier-Grice J., Mulgan G. (2010), The open book of social innovation, The Young Foundation