The Sustainability Platform

The Vendedy Pilot, Haiti, September 2014

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September is always a busy time in the life of The Sustainability Platform, with the Hult Prize finals and Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting (more on that in the next post), but this September takes the cake. We were invited by our very dear friend and colleague Christine Souffrant to join her in Haiti for a ten-day pilot for her new venture, Vendedy. Vendedy is a global on-line platform that aims provide street artisans from around the world with a marketplace for their products, cutting out the middleman and allowing the street artisans to see the true value of their product. A daughter of street vendors herself, Christine knows the importance of empowering them and we could not pass on the opportunity to be a part of it all.

The pilot took place in Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital still recovering from the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in 2010. The five-member team had a seemingly simple task: to gather as much data as possible on the street vendors and record their stories, giving them an opportunity to present themselves and their art to the world. Everyone who has ever worked in the development sector knows that things that look simple enough on the paper often turn into a logistical nightmare once on ground, and we were not the exception from that rule.

Haiti is in a complete state of NGO fatigue, which is completely understandable given what the last five years looked like. People are tired of foreigners coming in and promising change, only to leave when the funding runs out or a new disaster happens. Gaining the trust of the local community is the most important thing any new social enterprise has to do, and also the most rewarding. The single most important thing we did during the pilot was finding a way to engage with the local community and getting not only their support, but also their commitment to the project so that we can integrate them into the business model. After that, everything went a lot more smoothly; artisans opened up, the data we gathered was very high level and the stories we recorded are invaluable.

The Sustainability Platform went in as the social impact measurement partner and as such we focused on developing a set of metrics that Vendedy can use not only in Haiti but in other geographies as well. They include the increase in disposable income and quality of life, but also “soft” criteria, like the increase in self worth and levels of happiness. We believe that social enterprises need to see the bigger picture and look for answers to the most difficult questions, not shy away from them because they are hard to measure. This reinforces the purpose behind the business and allows for a high level of credibility when scaling up to different regions.

Our Haiti experience taught us so much about the resilience of human spirit and the beauty that can be found around us, but even more about our own work. Learning by doing is the only way to grow, especially in challenging environments such as this one, and we can honestly say that is one of our finest works up to date.

For more information about Vendedy and the pilot team please visit: http://vendedy.com/

Social Impact Measurement: Why does it Matter

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Originally written for Social Enterprise Hive, The Magazine and published at http://consciouscapitalismblog.me/

Social entrepreneurs around the globe are united by their desire to do good. We are motivated by the desire to create a dent in this world, challenge the status quo and make a difference. But at one point, sooner or later, we all ask our selves one question: Am I really making a difference and if yes, how much of it?

Social enterprises are usually started by people with great ideas and even better intentions, but not necessarily by people with business skills and business mindsets. The purpose of social enterprises is to bridge the gap between the efficiency of the corporate sector and the intentions of the non-profit sector, but we as social entrepreneurs often times fail to deliver the “efficiency” part. Every business, big or small, will be able to tell you exactly how much they are selling, how may costumers they have and what their outreach it. While the challenges we face in the social enterprise field are a bit different, the principle remains the same: measuring matters and just because it is hard (and it is, trust me), does not mean you can or should avoid it.

The first step in conducting a social impact measurement is deciding the why. Why are you doing it? What is the purpose of the final report? Are you trying to attract investors or are you doing it to ensure you as an entrepreneur know what you are doing right and what could use some improvement. The difference between an internal and an external use of the social impact measurement report determines the level of rigor necessary to conduct the research and the analysis.

Once you have determined the why, you need to decide on the who. Who are your main stakeholders, what is their importance and what are the inputs they have in your project? Are they giving their time, money or something else to you? What are the outputs and the outcomes that follow?

Now comes the fun part. You might believe you have a great effect on the self-esteem of people you are working with. You might be empowering the women in the community or reducing the level of loneliness of senior citizens. But how do you put a numeric value on those things?
Your potential investors might care about those things on a personal level, but chances are they will need more to give you money. There are various tools and frameworks out there that can help you do the analysis and find the most appropriate way for your case to quantify your impact.

There is a lot of truth in the statement “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” and it is time that we as social entrepreneurs take on the challenge of measuring our social impact. It will give us the legitimacy and advance the efforts in making this world a better place.