Making good go further in social value is vital: key trends for 2023

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Here, Guy Battle the CEO at Social Value Portal identifies some key trends he expects to see during 2023

2022 has seen a shift in focus from the pandemic and its related struggles to addressing the climate, energy and cost of living crises – all of which hit the most disadvantaged in society the hardest. This makes creating value more important than ever, so I expect to see this reflected in key trends across all sectors and industries over the next 12-18 months.

Where the public sector has led, the private sector (finally) follows

In the ten years since the Public Services (Social Value) Act received royal assent, the public sector has made considerable strides in embedding social value into all procurement, with central government making it obligatory from April 2021.

This has naturally had a knock-on effect as organisations in the private sector who want to continue to win work with the public sector realise they need to have a well-thought-through social value strategy. Initially, this is seen as a burden, but as they come to realise
that there is a clear business case for embedding social value into their day-to-day operations in terms of staff attraction, retention and shareholder returns, we are seeing it become a permanent feature.

As a result, we are seeing more organisations appoint Social Value Directors or Social Value Solution Architects, as well as more and more private sector organisations approaching us to find out how to develop an effective policy. Essentially, they are embedding the ‘spirit of the social value act’ across all their core activities, including operations, recruitment, supply chain management and CSR programmes.

In response, the National Social Value Conference, scheduled to take place in London on 13th & 14th June 2023, will specifically focus on showcasing the best of private sector engagement and key trends. As a result, we fully expect to see an uptake in interest from customers and contacts operating in the sector.

Climate, climate, climate: Collaboration is the key

We have seen the rapid acceleration of the climate emergency first-hand in
2022, with flooding in Australia, intense heat waves in India, droughts and landslides in Italy and the UK hitting its highest-ever recorded temperature of 40C.

With incidents such as this happening in the space of just a few months, there
is no doubt that we need to prioritise decarbonisation and focus on reaching net-zero as quickly as possible. Fortunately, there is more of an overall appetite for addressing the issue – the ONS’s latest Opinions and Social Trends survey reported that 64% of adults are now worried about climate change.

This is where social value comes in. Climate change is felt differently by different groups, with lower income and disadvantaged groups (i.e. those who are out of work, suffering from critical illness or experiencing fuel poverty), more likely to be affected, despite contributing the least to causes of climate change.

Every organisation can do something to help these groups as part of a robust social value policy, and from that base, the shared mission that creates collaboration and consensus will start to take shape, with the shift towards net-zero becoming more obvious.

It is also becoming more widely understood that social value and reducing environmental impact go hand in hand and that measuring and reporting on environmental performance
is what helps an organisation to understand not only what has been achieved but where further opportunities to reduce emissions lie.

We will see more conversations about the Social Value Economy

A few of us, including the National Social Value Taskforce and SE UK, have been speaking much more regularly about the Social Value Economy that is now widely used to describe a society and economy where all sectors of society work together, using all of their organisational levers to maximise social value.

It’s in our joint interests to achieve this as a weakened society affects an organisation’s employees, customers and wider stakeholders, ultimately making it less resilient. As the cost of living and energy crises continue to take hold, the wise move – not just for ethical reasons but also because it makes good business sense – is undoubtedly going to be to work together in a spirit of radical collaboration.

This can only be done if we are prepared to break down the traditional barriers of interdependence and collaborate across all sectors of society, public, private and civic. Only by aligning priorities will social value be maximised for all parties.

At Social Value Portal, we believe in this approach and have committed to a Big Audacious Goal (Our BAG), which is to work with our customers to unlock £100 billion of social value by the end of 2025.

Accountability is king

2022 saw several well-known global brands face accusations of greenwashing, and one in five organisations admitted to having been accused in the past. This is detrimental to a brand’s reputation, can lead to recruitment challenges and runs the risk of poor business performance.

The UK’s Financial Reporting Council (FRC) has already announced its intention to place more emphasis on reporting when assessing the 2023 reports of signatories of the UK
Stewardship Code. Meanwhile, the EU Council has committed to overhauling sustainability reporting by recently approving the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive.

Over the past year alone, Social Value Portal has seen firsthand organisations properly grasp the value of moving beyond compliance to measuring, evaluating and reporting on
the tangible improvements made in the communities in which they operate. It’s clear that 2023 will bear witness to a significant shift towards transparent, data-driven reporting in place of vague claims and assertions.

Social value is going global

As understanding of the potential and power of social value grows organisations (including governments and businesses) from around the world are looking more closely at our Social
Value Act, looking for ways to develop something similar to suit its own markets.

In fact, the global mining company BHP, which operates throughout Australia and the Americas, launched its own framework in 2022, paving the way for other leading global brands to follow.

We need to remember that it’s not just the UK facing the triple challenge of energy price hikes, cost of living crises and the climate emergency; the entire world is up against the same challenges.

And so, at Social Value Portal, we are now developing a global solution to social value measurement and reporting – the Global TOMs Framework that is built around a series of universal outcomes relevant in any country but can be adapted to reflect local priorities.

The past year has seen some dramatic progress in social value. With continued government focus and the adoption by the private sector, it is clear that not only is it here to stay, but it is building a massive momentum and will become even more deeply embedded into how
we work.

We have some hard months ahead of us, but I am optimistic that we can make a real and positive difference by working together across sectors.


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