Social Impact, Intrapreneurship, Benefit Corporation, Shared Value — there are a lot of buzzwords that get thrown around in the social arena. It is important to understand what these terms mean and when to use them – or when not to use them. Here is a quick guide to help you get to grips with all the jargon and fanfare that surround social change. Whether you add them to your lexicon or boycott them is up to you, just make sure you know what they mean.

A type of corporation, currently recognised in 30 U.S. states and D.C. with legally protected requirements of higher purpose, accountability, and transparency.
:: B Corporation

The delivery of both a social or environmental return and a financial return. It’s a win-win that does not require compromise on either side of the social or financial equation.
:: The Difference Incubator

For-profit companies certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.
:: B Corporation

A term coined by the social entrepreneurship organisation, Ashoka, meaning one who desires change in the world and, by gathering knowledge and resources, makes that change happen.

Collective impact occurs when organisations from different sectors agree to solve a specific social problem using a common agenda, aligning their efforts, and using common measures of success.
:: FSG

The continuing commitment by business to contribute to economic development while improving the quality of life of the workforce and their families as well as of the community and society at large.
:: World Business Council for Sustainable Development

A distinctive process of developing innovative solutions that is rooted in principles of physical, spatial, graphic, and user-interface design. It is characterized by an emphasis on deeply understanding the practical needs, behavior, and perspectives of actual users and constituents and may be applied to a wide variety of challenges, including programs, services, products, and processes. It is an action-oriented approach to generating creative solutions to complex problems.
:: Bridgespan

A philosophy and social movement which applies evidence and reason to working out the most effective ways to improve the world. It is built upon a simple but profound idea: that living a fully ethical life means using your spare resources for the “most good you can do”.
:: Peter Singer, author of The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically

Used to describe the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.
:: Greenpeace

Investment with the intention to achieve both a positive social, cultural or environmental benefit and some measure of financial return.
:: Social Ventures Australia

A set of corporate policies and practices that enhance the competitiveness of a company, simultaneously advancing social and economic conditions.
:: Deloitte Australia

The institutions, relationships, and norms that shape the quality and quantity of a society’s social interactions. Increasing evidence shows that social cohesion is critical for societies to prosper economically and for development to be sustainable. Social capital is not just the sum of the institutions which underpin a society – it is the glue that holds them together.
:: Senscot via The World Bank

Social entrepreneurs drive social innovation and transformation in various fields including education, health, environment and enterprise development. They pursue poverty alleviation goals with entrepreneurial zeal, business methods and the courage to innovate and overcome traditional practices. A social entrepreneur, similar to a business entrepreneur, builds strong and sustainable organisations, which are either set up as not-for-profits or companies.
:: The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship

An organisation that applies commercial strategies to maximise social impact rather than profits.
:: Social Good Stuff

All forms of significant change experienced by individuals and communities. This includes income and labour market impacts, education impacts, social inclusion and relationship changes, mental and physical health effects, and overall impact on quality of life and well-being.
:: Professor Paul Flatau, Director of the Centre for Social Impact at the UWA Business School

A novel solution to a social problem that is more effective, efficient, sustainable, or just than current solutions. The value created accrues primarily to society rather than to private individuals.
:: Stanford Business, Centre for Social Innovation

People within a large corporation who take direct initiative for innovations that address social or environmental challenges while also creating commercial value for the company.
:: Forbes

A form of stakeholder-driven evaluation blended with cost-benefit analysis tailored to social purposes. It tells the story of how change is being created and places a monetary value on that change and compares it with the costs of inputs required to achieve it.
:: Social Ventures Australia

The ability to understand interconnections in such a way as to create sustained and meaningful social change.
:: David Peter Stroh, author of Systems Thinking For Social Change

Consists of three Ps: profit, people and planet. It aims to measure the financial, social and environmental performance of the corporation over a period of time. Only a company that produces a TBL is taking account of the full cost involved in doing business.
:: The Economist 

Philanthropic giving to social ventures that operate a business model and is generally associated with social start up or growth capital needed to deliver or grow a social mission. It generally, means the donator is not seeking anything other than a social return or community (non-private) benefit.
:: Partnering for Scale and Impact (PSI)

Did we miss something? Are there any words that you’ve heard lately that you think will soon be part of the mainstream? Are there any that you’re tired of hearing? Let us know in the comments below.

A Quick Guide to Social Change Buzzwords and Terminology




  • Lately, I have heard Personal Social Responsibility to relate to an individual’s responsibility to give back to their community.

  • I take issue with the term Social Capital being used primarily about organisations and institutions.

    According to Robert Putnam, social capital “connections among individuals – social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from them.”


    • I agree, as per the definition: “Social capital is not just the sum of the institutions which underpin a society – it is the glue that holds them together.” Thanks for the comment!

      • I guess for a glossary, that’s a light enough definition. However I feel like the definition is pretty vague – I originally read ‘institutions’ as organisations, but indeed it could mean the cultural conventions (such as marriage, village fetes or any other social norm).

        I think Putnam, and indeed Peter Block’s seminal work on Community which looks at Social Capital as a driving force for social change, get at something a bit deeper about the qualities of that culture – which can either make things stick together, or not.

        • Excellent Sam. Thank you for sharing. For those interested in diving a little deeper here is a great chapter-by-chapter summary from Block’s Community: The Structure of Belonging: (Book summary courtesy of the Progressive Women’s Alliance®).

          “The fact that a sense of community has practical importance is probably best established in the work of Robert Putnam in his book Bowling Alone. He found that community health, educational achievement, local economic strength, and other measures of community well-being were dependent on the level of social capital that exists in a community…. A community’s well-being simply had to do with the quality of the relationships, the cohesion that exists among its citizens. He calls this social capital.”

  • Impact innovation would be good to include, its as I understand it a blend of shared value, b-corps, cooperatives/Mutuals, social enterprise and impact investing.

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