What Keeps Social Impact Leaders Up at Night?

Our six key takeaways from Social Innovation Summit 2023




At this year’s conference in Los Angeles, Social Innovation Summit brought together social impact leaders from all around the world, who discussed pressing questions and exciting ideas for how to make the world a better place. Deed was proud to partner with SIS in representing the next generation of good tech. 


Deed hosted social impact professionals for lunch during the conference.

Standing room only!


The problem: What keeps social impact leaders up at night?


On the first day of #SIS2023, the Deed team invited some of our new and old connections to a casual lunch. We were not only impressed by the number of people who came out (standing room only!) but truly inspired by the ingenuity and drive of these folks working across environmental, social, and governance (ESG), corporate social responsibility (CSR), and social impact with some of the world’s most influential companies. 


Over sandwiches, someone raised the question: What keeps you up at night? The conversation quickly turned into an admirably frank and serious discussion of the many problems currently facing our industry, as well as creative ideas for how to overcome them. 


Here, we’ve distilled some of the key points to inform your own views on the future of responsible business. 

6 takeaways from Social Innovation Summit 2023


1. The politics surrounding ESG are distracting—but not insurmountable


With the ebb and flow of election seasons in the United States comes an unfortunate and inappropriate debate about ESG. 


The core problem we’re trying to solve is this: How can business leaders shepherd great ideas out of our countless email threads and into the real lives of communities who need our help? 


Social Innovation Summit was a great reminder that when folks from some of the world’s most inspiring and important organizations come together, the social impact community can rise above the rhetoric by working together. 


Leveraging inclusive social impact technology to engage employees from all walks of life and inviting everyone to the decision-making table is not just fun and exciting—it’s the way forward. 


Attendees discuss how to take the politics out of ESG.


2. Social impact faces scrutiny both inside and outside our organizations


Social impact leaders run into a wide range of hurdles and even blocks to their work. Sometimes these can understandably come from within our increasingly complex organizations. Other times we are just trying to adapt to the world around us. 


External pressure from both the heightened politicization of ESG and the tangible impact of climate change and social injustice have a considerable impact on the day-to-day work of social impact professionals. For those of us wondering how we can make the biggest impact while meeting business needs, maintaining compliance with ever-changing domestic and international law is no small feat. Persevering in the face of the misinformed stigma that social impact amounts to “woke capitalism”—despite the growing body of research that shows CSR is good for business—is difficult as well.  


Looking at internal blocks, we all know that every company contends with some degree of internal politics. Despite the fact that social impact is proven to help junior employees and senior management get on the same page by focusing on the company’s core purpose, our field cannot bypass the struggle to secure buy-in from all levels. This is especially true when trying to sustain a single voice and a single approach to social impact amidst a broader economic climate where layoffs, mergers, and acquisitions can sometimes threaten the job security of sustainability and social impact professionals. 


What to do in the face of internal and external adversity? Social impact leaders turn to those whose voices matter most: our employees. 

CSR leaders trade notes on how best to engage employees.


3. Employee engagement makes and breaks great programs

The vast majority of Social Innovation Summit attendees agreed that without the support of our employees, our social impact programs would scarcely make a dent. But how do we get our people on board? 


From Airbnb to lululemon, many of the world’s most influential companies are leveraging employee engagement tech to run volunteer events, fundraisers, and build authentic community around shared passions. 


But social impact tech solutions do not come without their own challenges. For instance, many large-scale organizations test out new platforms in just one of several regional business units (BUs). Ensuring that their tech can scale across BUs and countries is crucial to ensuring a consistently enjoyable employee experience. 


Another increasingly important challenge is maintaining a high standard of diversity and inclusion both in the administration of the program and on the tech platform. The old way of implementing social impact programs typically involved piecing together several different solutions, which diluted companies’ intentions. How can we make sure all passions can be met to get everyone excited to make an impact? And is there a way to ensure every employee can truly see themselves on our social impact tech platforms? Fortunately, all-in-one tech platforms like Deed now help global teams make an impact at scale. 

Inspiring ideas—like mandatory ESG training for all employees—were flowing throughout Social Innovation Summit.


4. Mandatory employee ESG training may soon become the norm


Creative ideas for how to improve our communities and the planet come in surprising places—that is, once folks are thinking with a social impact lens. 


One interesting idea that made the rounds at Social Innovation Summit this year was the prospect of making ESG training for all employees mandatory across the board. Many senior level managers have taken part in similar trainings before, but inviting all employees into the process could radically alter the landscape of social impact. 


What would mandatory employee ESG training look like? The University of California, Berkeley Law School offers a course with modules like: 


  • Articulating and Enacting Corporate Purpose 
  • Redefining the Roles of Government and Business to Address Social and Environmental Challenges
  • Debating the Board’s Fiduciary Duties Under the Traditional and New Corporate Forms
  • Communicating with Investors on Environmental and Social Risks and Priorities 
  • Governing ESG Risks and Opportunities
  • Measuring and Disclosing Environmental and Social Risks and Priorities
  • Valuing Employees and the Workforce
  • Prioritizing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
  • Respecting Human Rights
  • Building Resilience Against Environmental Risks


UC Berkeley describes the course—which will likely inspire broader employee trainings—this way: 


This course approaches ESG from a cross-functional perspective and explores both legal and business risks and opportunities…Each module begins with a lecture that includes theoretical underpinnings for each topic and case studies of leading company practices. 


As social impact professionals, it’s our job to welcome all our employees into our purpose-driven work. Mandatory ESG trainings would raise the baseline for the conversations, good deeds, and large-scale programs we’re able to accomplish together. 

ESG leaders in particular were interested in learning how to measure outcomes vs. outputs.


5. We need a strategy for measuring social impact 


With hundreds of frameworks and methods for capturing and using ESG-related data, many Social Innovation Summit were loud and clear about the need to find a practicable way of measuring our efforts without locking ourselves into too rigid a reporting structure. 


One compelling strategy for unifying social impact reporting is to focus on outcomes rather than outputs. For example, any organization can look at their volunteer events or campaigns and ask themselves: How many people say their lives have improved because of the success of the program? The answer would show us the concrete number of people who benefited from our work, which is not only a more meaningful metric than the number of volunteer hours performed or donation dollars given, but it’s also one that can be used in basically every case. 


As the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the European Union continue to draft and revise their reporting requirements, now is the time to talk about what data authentically paints the picture of our organizations’ social impact. You can join the conversation by tuning into “Maximizing Social Impact,” a three-part webinar series from True Impact and Deed. We’re trying to lower the barrier for entry to meaningful impact measurement by breaking it down into achievable steps. If you missed the first two installments, you can read the key takeaways and watch the recording here


Sharing our experiences across industries and departments led to some incredibly creative and productive conversations.


6. Alignment between social impact goals and core business goals is crucial


Our own Chad Haertling writes that, “As the pitch of social and environmental crises continues to rise, responsible business leaders are taking the search to leverage their companies’ competency to do more good with much greater seriousness.” 


This sentiment was echoed around the lunch table and throughout the conference. But what does that alignment really look like? 


At the enterprise scale, it’s important to seek out an authentic connection between the products and services that the company delivers and the more fundamental social and environmental issues that you are well-positioned to address. The global cryptocurrency leader Ripple, for example, leverages their expertise in blockchain technology to expand financial inclusion to “1.4 billion people are unbanked and nearly 2 billion more are underbanked.”


“Finding the Purpose Fit” is Deed’s blog series dedicated to exploring where the everyday work of social impact—like employee volunteering and giving or corporate grants—fits into large, complex global organizations. The latest installment is a spotlight on Michael Rittersbacher, a respected ESG veteran from Disney, Coca-Cola, & Google’s ESG. Read Michael’s insight into reporting, employee engagement, and the future of responsible business here


We were thrilled to meet Zoom friends face to face for the first time and make countless new connections.


The solution: Rally employees around your organization’s core values


The team at Social Innovation Summit “meticulously curated [an] audience of top social impact leaders from around the world for an exciting two days filled with top-tier programming, discussions, debates, and unique VIP networking opportunities.” All their hard work certainly paid off in our experience. We can’t wait for next year!


Did your team attend #SIS2023? Looking to keep the momentum going? Or maybe you couldn’t make it this year but still want your program to reflect the thoughts of the world’s most influential social impact leaders? 


To your employees, Deed is a fun hub for volunteering, giving, and connecting with friends and colleagues who share their passions. To you, Deed is a true partner from day one, with award-winning service across employee engagement, corporate grantmaking, global philanthropic campaigns, and data-driven decision-making. And to the world, we’re the all-in-one social impact platform trusted by Airbnb, lululemon, Ghirardelli, and more. 


Talk with an experienced social impact professional today to learn how to rally your employees around volunteering, giving, and other small acts of kindness on Deed.


Deed is humbled to have sponsored Social Innovation Summit 2023 alongside some of the world's most inspiring organizations, from our partner lululemon to the Walton Family Foundation, BlackRock, Citi, Lyft, and more. We hope to see you there next year!



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