Seth, you’ve held impact reporting positions since 2006. Why did you choose to focus on social impact measurement at that time?
Social impact has always been important to me. I’ll give some credit to my preschool founder, Lynne Twist, who later wrote the book, The Soul of Money, in which she explains: “In the campaign to gain, we often pursue our goals at all costs, even at the risk of destroying whole cultures and peoples…. The unquestioned, unchecked drive for more fuels an unsustainable economy, culture, and way of being that has failed us by blocking our access to the deeper, more meaningful aspects of our lives and ourselves.” Now, she wasn’t teaching that directly to four-year-olds but I believe that there was something special in the San Francisco community she and my parents built around me. I’ve always experienced the truth that cooperative success models produce greater value than competition and greed. Social impact is a way to measure that success.
By the time 2006 rolled around and subprime criminals had destroyed some $30 trillion of the world’s wealth, I was coming out of 12 years of start-ups — even Time Inc.’s Pathfinder and Kmart’s Bluelight.com were really just corporate start-ups for me. I had done a lot of database thinking, content management, e-commerce, loyalty marketing, web analytics, and real-time incentives. My wife and I were living in Berkeley, California and I wanted to do some good with my technical skills. I contracted with small businesses, nonprofits, and local social leaders to make change happen. Google Analytics, sales, and votes measured the results. I had a good run as a contractor but the recession hit in 2008, and I jumped at an opportunity to join an inspiring team out of Oakland, California called TransForm. The mission was in the name and it continues strong today.
At TransForm I had a chance to put it all together on Salesforce, a free nonprofit platform. I integrated advocacy outreach and legislative success rates with donor dollars. I tied finances directly to program deliverables and made those monthly audits and quarterly board reports much easier. From that point on, I was hooked on data as a tool for change — a team can set a compelling objective, shoot for results, measure what worked, adjust, repeat, and increase impact.
How have you seen social impact measurement change since 2006? We often talk about evolving from measuring inputs to measuring outputs, outcomes, and impacts.
It’s hard to separate social impact measurement from the society demanding the numbers, and that society has evolved. We’re seeing a natural progression as humans break free of the economic model we inherited from flag-waving kings and men willing to subjugate people and the planet for their own treasure chests. It’s a long process for sure but — like Moore’s Law — there’s an exponential change occurring as the speed of relevant data is increasing, and we’re finding that it aligns with what our heart already knows. As a student of American history, a few evolutionary highlights have been important to me:
- 1950s: Poets like Allen Ginsberg howled and protested “the narcotic tobacco haze of Capitalism”
- 1960s: Martin Luther King, Jr. saw worker rights as inextricably linked with civil rights
- 1990s: John Perry Barlow, co-founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, explained to me: “What the Internet will ultimately do is completely dismantle the social and economic structures of the industrial period.”
- 2007: iPhone introduced
- 2008: Our taxes helped to bail out the global financial system
- 2011: The Occupy movement found solidarity with 99%
- 2015: The United Nations published the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030
- 2015: Jon Stewart rallied for vigilance against “premeditated institutional bullshit designed to obscure and distract.”
- 2019: Greta Thunberg, 16, represented a multi-generational and multi-national constituency when she declared, “We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.”
- 2020/21: Jeff Bezos and MacKenzie Scott both spend roughly $5.5 billion (some of that from my lifetime-spend at Amazon.com). Jeffrey gets cowboy boots and a rocket ship. She gives it away.
Today, computing speed and data storage make it possible to measure the full flow of money from corporate spending to its impact on economic inequality and Earth systems. This means that internal corporate budget allocations are as important as shareholder returns and the shroud of corporate governance is becoming very thin. Investors, clients, consumers, employees, community members, and social medialites are all demanding transparency because they know it’s available. Boards of directors who choose courage over comfort have a tremendous opportunity to incorporate a new set of stakeholder success metrics into their annual reports.
CEO Pay Ratios serve as red flags for selfish leadership while sustainable corporate teams can report increases and decreases on clear metrics introduced by the UN’s SDGs:
- Percentage of management teams that are not white males
- Percentage of energy that is renewable
- What specific actions have been taken to support biodiversity and healthy ecosystems
- What percentage of their employees are:
- Reporting incidents of discrimination
- Continuing with education
- Maintaining mental and physical health
- Seeing hourly wages increase
- Enjoying access to clean drinking water and sustainable agriculture
These are all measurable objectives that any HR and Operations teams can make known.
Obviously, environmental metrics are a bit ahead of others, but where do you see us heading in the measurement and reporting space?
Measure the flow of money and if people are listening — those are metrics with real impact.
There’s such a long history of corporate white and greenwashing that anyone who wants to be taken seriously has to prove they’re listening to stakeholders and can show a transparent flow of money in and out of their organization.
So far big data has produced a lot of metrics for the mind, which is good for artificial intelligence and problem-solving. Now is the time for metrics of the heart — data that plays to our emotional intelligence and leadership capacity. We need to bring our whole selves to the challenges at hand — anything less is a waste of time. The UN’s SDG Indicators (the measurable actions beneath the 17 Goals and 169 Targets) are reporting gold. The fact that it’s the UN that established them seems like a miracle since all 193 nations actually agreed.
Tell us a little bit about OAKS.
Metrics.Earth was founded to measure, and more importantly, move the bottom lines of social and environmental sustainability. OAKs (Objectives, Alignments and Key Results) is the first Salesforce Partner application by the company.
OAKs takes advantage of standard Salesforce automation, project management, budgeting, and campaign functionality while integrating with any other Salesforce object for reports and dashboards. The license is company-wide so all employees will have access as needed.
With OAKs, the actual act of measuring goes beyond accounting and produces change. All measurements rest on an SDG Indicator and, as soon as you set an account alignment (+3 to -3), the value of that account is immediately adjusted — a level of solidarity now exists in support of your own corporate objectives. Social and environmental responsibility are not hemmed in by a corporation’s four walls, your sales staff will have something compelling to talk about, your employees will see the flow of money, and your CFO will have numbers that mirror results.
Over the last year, interest in social impact has hit critical mass. What advice would you give to those who are interested in working in the social impact space, especially those who are interested in measurement?
The fun thing about social impact measurement is that you can lean into your role as a corporate citizen. Citizens interact with one another. They listen and learn. Leaders step up to acknowledge when failed policies demand a change in direction and assume full responsibility for a pivotal decision. Lead from where you are.
Anyone can punch in numbers and run charts for measurement, but you need to make sure that the metrics are indicators of action, not just accounting. Heed Mr. Stewart’s warning that “bullshitters cover their unwillingness to act under the guise of unending inquiry.” Confirm that the social impact measurements you are reporting are related to your corporate governance documents and that there is someone from the board who cares about what’s in the report. And if you smell something, say something.