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Understanding the business of social impact: Learn social impact lingo in 5 minutes


An essential part of feeling included in any group is adopting its vernacular. This is certainly not exclusive to the social impact sector. As associate professor of Applied Linguistics and Discourse Studies, Graham Smart puts it, “Part of joining a ‘tribe’ is to learn its jargon...to feel part of it is to learn the language of that organization, that field.”

To the outsider, however, these buzzwords can be a source of alienation and may form an impenetrable wall to understanding. As a result, the insularity nature of this jargon sometimes prevent communications from reaching a wider audience, something detrimental for an industry that prizes inclusivity and relies on general appeal.

To help you speak the language of social impact, we’ve compiled a short glossary of the most commonly used words in the space and explained how they relate to the corporate world.

Blended value: a model emphasizing the ability of an organization to generate composite social and economic value. The concept rests on the notion that value is indivisible and all output and performance must viewed holistically.

Due diligence: a concept that places responsibility on an organization to do the requisite research to ensure that adverse outcomes of any of its activities are accounted for.

Changemaker: a term coined by the organization Ashoka referring to a network of people around the world that are dedicated to applying innovative methods to solve social challenges and accelerating social change.

Capacity-building: a process referring to the development through training, mentorship, and funding of individuals and groups to enable them thrive in their environment. Emphasis is placed on the strengthening the ability of local communities to adapt on their own.

Donor-centric: an approach that involves fostering a trusting relationship between a donor and the organization. Essentially, “when donor communication is focused on the role they can and do play in making progress, the organization is reinforcing the positive reasons the donor was motivated to give in the first place.”

Self-sufficiency: is the condition of an organization, group, or individual of being able to sustain itself (for example, in resources, skills, or financially). Self-sufficiency is a foundational principle of social enterprises.

Logic Model: a mapping tool developed by project managers and evaluators to present the theoretical effectiveness of a given program. A simple logic model is comprised of 4 key components: inputs, activities, outputs, and effects.

Accountability Framework: a model that lays out and helps track an organization’s responsibilities and obligations in consideration of its commitments and expected outcomes.

Community-driven action: an approach that prioritizes the concerns of the people of a community. This entails gathering input, through discussion and other instruments, from those that make up the affected group.

Systems thinking: the principle that recognizes the interconnection of multiple variables that engender social change.

Stakeholder: any individual, group, or entity that directly influences and is influenced by the activities of a given project.


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