Life has changed for many of us over the past several weeks. We’ve had to acclimate to Zoom meetings, spending the day in our pyjamas, and workspaces surrounded by kids, clutter, and distractions. What could this mean for our social impact?
It’s important to look at both sides of the coin – we could easily get caught up in all of the disadvantages this time could bring for us and our social impact. However, it’s also important to realize that this time presents unique opportunities that could be taken advantage of.
There are few of us who haven’t been impacted by the novel Coronavirus. The stats represent a harsh reality for many people around the globe. Whilst the restaurant, hospitality, and airline industries have been in the news frequently, the social sector has received comparably little attention – yet has been impacted in many of the same ways.
The job security of social enterprise and not-for-profit workers depends on these organisations thriving and accomplishing their operational aims. Faced with social distancing regulations, changes in funding, or the many logistical issues that have come about with this global pandemic, many social enterprises around Australia and abroad have been faced with significant changes in their workforce.
For those still employed and/or are working from home are being faced with challenges evident in all industries – productivity losses, isolation, reduced opportunities for networking, and challenges brought about raising a family and possibly mitigating the impacts of lost or reduced wages. Perhaps most important, many social impact actors will be further distanced spatially and temporally from witnessing the fulfillment of their social aims, and social impact evaluation may be more difficult.
For many who work on the front line with individuals and communities experiencing disadvantage, social distancing will impede upon some relationships. For individuals who find strength in the interactions with the individuals and communities at the core of their organisation’s social purpose, this could be quite challenging.
Another significant hit to many organisations is the changes in volunteerism. Australia has long been known as a place with high volunteering rates. In 2016, nearly 4 million people volunteered – roughly 19% of the population. The operation of many social purpose organisations depends on the support of volunteers, whether students, individuals or corporate groups. However, with recent changes, more people working from home, and increased fears of contracting coronavirus, many organisations have been faced with a significant gap in support.
These issues encompass significant resource limitations and structural changes for many organisations in the social sector. These have financial and cashflow impacts, and some will challenge the sustainability of organisations in the long-term.
Yes, this is undoubtedly a very difficult period for many of us. It has required a unique ability to adapt to changes, as well as perseverance and commitment to our social aims that mediates any of the challenges and obstacles we are currently facing. However, while it has been extremely difficult for those of us involved in the social impact sector, it’s those who our organisations fight for that are being disproportionately impacted.
The financial, health, and social impacts of COVID-19 have been unequally experienced in marginalized communities. According to the New York Times, in areas of the world acutely experiencing the pandemic, it is “pushing many of the burdens onto the losers of today’s polarized economies and labour markets.”
For a myriad of reasons, it’s those who our social impacts aim to support who are experiencing the effects of the novel coronavirus more acutely. From financial strains and livelihood impacts, to education losses and social barriers, to even contracting the disease itself, low-income, indigenous, and immigrant communities are more at risk.
While these unprecedented conditions are wreaking havoc in communities around the world, they are also bringing structural, social, and financial inequalities under examination. Social injustice and public health are inextricably linked. The world is arguably more aware than ever of how marginalised communities experience financial, social, and health crises, and this is setting the stage for an enhanced recognition and appreciation of social impact organizations.
In some cases, the increased awareness of these social injustice issues is resulting in novel funding opportunities. Over the past few weeks, the Australian government has announced funding packages of more than 200 million dollars to support the social sector—this, just for organisations that provide food and emergency relief.
In many cases, other financial responses have been quick – particularly with funding changes that support organisations during this time of need. Over the past several weeks and across the globe funders have removed restrictions from grants, have done away with reporting requirements, and have sped up payment processing.
Whilst productivity has been impacted in many organisations, it has also presented novel opportunities for connectivity and engagement. New virtual resources have been made available allowing organisations that are geographically distant to come together in new and unique ways. MicroMentor, an offshoot of Mercy Corps, has pledged to support social entrepreneurs around the world with help to recover financially and emotionally from the impact of the current pandemic. Social Change Central, SOCAP, and World Economic Forum are collating online resources to coordinate cooperation and efforts.
The Age of Social Enterprise
What we are experiencing is unlike any other crisis faced in modern history. While social enterprises will play a key role in mediating some of the negative impacts, is also a time for other actors and institutions to step up and get involved. Around the globe, social impact will have to work side-by-side with bottom lines, and social innovation will become an increasingly important part of corporate and entrepreneurial ventures.
Social impact is more important than ever—financial, health, and well-being disparities are clearer than ever before and there’s a demonstrated need for action. This presents a beckoning for social impact organisations to begin or further their efforts to reach their targeted communities.
While 2020 has called for socially minded efforts, how can individuals and organizations measure the impact in a time of social distancing? This will require the social sector to develop and perfect new strategies and methods by which to ensure they’re effectively reaching those in need. It will take rejuvenated commitment, unique and creative effort, and resilience in the face of many changes. But isn’t this where social impact organisations truly thrive?