Social value in harder times

By Carole Wildman - on 08/12/2015

In the run up to our 'Social Value in Harder Times' conference in January, Carole Wildman, Corporate Director of Growth at Walsall Housing Group guest blogs about the need to get smarter about social value when faced with challenging times ahead.

According to the government’s taskforce the world is on the brink of a revolution; a revolution where we solve society’s toughest problems through harnessing the power of social impact investment. Those of us who have been in this business a long time might argue that whilst the new focus is to be welcomed, the concept of social impact investment is not as revolutionary as some might think. Whether you look to the utilitarian economics of theorists such as Jeremy Bentham (his ‘greatest happiness of the greatest number’ theory is often seen as the starting point for measuring actions against their social consequences)  or the community work of social reformers like Octavia Hill there is arguably a very broad historical context for the work that we do.

Octavia Hill’s philosophy of developing potential and promoting self sufficiency is still alive and kicking in the housing movement today. whg like many other housing associations places a strong emphasis on empowering customers to reach their full potential. Last year alone we trained over 100 apprentices and recruited over 100 local residents furthest from the labour market on to capacity building and employment preparation programmes. We also invested heavily in health programmes and in building new affordable homes.

With unemployment remaining stubbornly high in Walsall and thousands of families still on our housing waiting list we know that we’ve got lots more work to do. That’s why we’re launching a new Employment and Training Team with ambitious plans to build on our work in local communities and it’s why we have an aspiring development programme with big plans to complete 1,889 new homes by 2018.

We also recognise the need to get smarter about how we measure, evaluate and report the impact we’re having and this relates not just to our own programmes but our supply chains and contracted services too. At a time when our funding streams are coming under closer and closer scrutiny we must account for our actions and demonstrate the profound social impact our investment has.

We still have a lot to learn but we’re making rapid progress. We’ve been busy embedding social impact measurement across the business and this year we produced our first full social impact report. We’re now working on enhancing our approach to impact measurement and developing a robust social impact framework for all our procurement activity.

In harder times lots of challenging questions are going to be asked of housing associations. Having an effective strategy on social impact will help to ensure we give the right answers. 

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