A SCRIPT for Social Sustainability
A 6-step framework for curating initiatives that deeply impact society
Social sustainability, currently the word du jour, refers to the impact an organization has on society. Most organizations desire to have a positive social impact. Altruistic intentions aside, they realize this is quite simply good for business. A positive social impact builds brand awareness, develops trust with customers, and strengthens employee engagement – all key issues that organizations are grappling with today.
However, achieving true social sustainability is not as simple as organizing an event with community engagement, sending out a press release, and waiting for the impact to skyrocket the brand. It requires more thought and resources.
Having created initiatives around financial education that deliver true social sustainability, we have developed a 6-step SCRIPT framework for achieving this goal.
S – Strategically selected cause
This is the first crucial step and one that sets the stage for the success of the initiative. Organizations need to ensure that the cause they want to rally their troops and resources behind is strategically aligned with the organizations’ vision and business objectives. This makes it easier to integrate the initiative with their marketing strategies, ultimately helping their bottom line. This then also changes the lens through which they view the initiative – not as a cost to company but as a business opportunity that can be leveraged for long term organizational benefit.
It also helps if the cause is emotive and socially relevant. For example, financial education for youngsters is deeply emotive and serves to connect with a wide swath of society. It’s also a topic that organizations can delve into deeply, as it will always be socially relevant. Particularly for banks and financial institutions, this issue is one that squarely aligns with their vision and purpose.
C – Consistency is key
It would be hard to overemphasize the importance of being consistent in the rollout and implementation of a cause-related social initiative. Consistency demonstrates commitment and enables organizations to reap the effects of compounding, slowly but surely building a reputation that stands out in relation to that particular initiative. Consistency allows the brand to own that space in the consumer’s mind and provides the brand with strong social credentials (think Patagonia and climate change).
An inconsistent or sporadic effort would be a colossal waste of time and resources. Moving in ten different directions does not move the needle on any one. In today’s world of social media noise and fragmented consumer focus, having a laser-focused strategy and driving the same social impact message home is key to unlocking the potential of these initiatives.
R – Real value is delivered
This should be obvious, but there are so many social initiatives that merely tick the proverbial box and get the PR story out without actually delivering any real value to society. This could be for a number of reasons – the initiative is too small and benefits only a minuscule number of people, is too short for any real change to be engendered, or is just too ineffective to bring about any lasting change beyond that which is momentary.
Delivering real value is the most important step in creating initiatives that have a deep social impact. It’s the only parameter that initiatives should be evaluated on. An initiative could score highly on every other aspect, like strategy and consistency, but count for nothing if it fails to deliver real value.
In terms of financial education for youngsters, there are tons of initiatives that fail this key metric. Again, the reasons abound, from not having a tested and widely acclaimed curriculum and not being delivered by trained professionals to just conducting awareness sessions and implicit product pushing.
Real value is paramount if the initiative is to succeed in the long term. It’s the base on which feedback, reviews, and testimonials are built, all of which are critical to the social success of the initiative.
I – Impeccable standards
The initiative must be implemented with the highest standards of propriety. This includes ensuring that partner companies associated with the rollout have appropriate credentials, maintaining quality standards for the program, and following agreed-upon guidelines for project reporting.
Following these standards is essential for building and strengthening trust among various stakeholders, which in turn, translates to trust in the organization and brand. Trust is a valuable currency in today’s world.
For the example of the financial education initiative for youngsters, it was crucial to demonstrate to stakeholders the global standards of the curriculum, the expertise of the educators involved, the experience the organization had in running large-scale initiatives, and the innovativeness of the teaching methodologies used to ensure a world-class experience.
P – Pragmatic goals
While nowadays it’s fashionable to overpromise, just because it makes for a better sound byte on social media, it’s important to decide on goals that are pragmatic to deliver.
This is important because as a long-term commitment, the regular updates on the initiative should show clear advancement on the goals. The public narrative should be honest and transparent and that’s easier when the goals are achievable.
It also ensures that the morale of the team stays high because they can see the goals as something they can reasonably aspire to. That however doesn’t detract from choosing an audacious goal, it just means putting in the work, resources and commitment to ensure that the desired goal is reached.
T – Transcend the ordinary
In order for the initiative to cut through the noise in the market and gain traction, its immensely helpful if the initiative scores high on novelty and innovativeness. This makes it stand out from the rest, and get attention and engagement from stakeholders.
It needs to be something they are proud to be part of, and happy to facilitate. Something that captures their imagination and that immediately connects with them on a deeper level. Something extraordinary.
Extraordinary not just in terms of scale and quality but more importantly in terms of social sustainability.
The financial education initiatives we ran in 2022 and more recently in early 2023, that encompassed thousands of students, across nearly 30 educational institutions is a great example as it delivered on all three counts.
Schools were proud to be part of this, parents were thrilled that their kids were finally getting the financial education they sorely lacked; the kids were excited to be learning about a topic they realized was incredibly important. Critically, the sponsoring organization was especially pleased with the social sustainability this initiative generated.
Curating an initiative that has far-reaching impact is not just a social imperative but a business imperative as well. It bodes well for many aspects of an organization, like brand awareness, trust, and employee engagement. However, it’s not so easily done.
The six-step SCRIPT framework we’ve detailed above sheds light on the key principles required for an initiative to achieve a breakthrough on the social impact front. Each one is vital in its own right, but working together, they ensure that the initiative comes together coherently to deliver what everyone wants – social sustainability.
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