Why measurement matters if you want to maximise your social enterprise’s impact

Jasjit Singh, Associate Professor of Strategy at INSEAD and Co-Director of INSEAD Social Entrepreneurship Programme, spoke about measuring social impact at the 2016 DBS Foundation Social Enterprise Summit. Excerpts of his presentation have been adapted and reproduced here.

The case for setting up a car sharing business to create a positive environmental impact is often taken for granted – it would reduce carbon footprint, and there would be less congestion on the roads. But is it really that simple? Consider these questions:

  • Who are the people who signed up for this service?
  • What happened after they signed up?
  • What would they be doing if they did not sign up?

If, for example, the car sharing users would have walked or taken public transport otherwise rather than buying a car, while car owners continue using their own cars, how exactly is the intended environmental impact of car sharing going to come about?

Just assuming that a well-intentioned venture will automatically have the intended positive impact is not appropriate. We need to rigorously evaluate whether the impact does get realised.

This means checking whether the assumptions behind our model for impact really hold true in reality.

Rigorous studies have examined the issue by analysing large-scale data. While some benefits have been proven – carbon footprint has indeed gone down a bit – car sharing has not created quite as big a positive impact as some companies claim in selling their story.

Similarly, in the context of improving the lives of the poor, when evaluating the impact created by your social enterprise or impact-driven business, it’s important to have a clear view of how the impact is generated (your “theory of change”), and the realised breadth and depth of the intended social impact (i.e., the number of people positively affected and the degree of change that has been made).