The Deep Roots of Social Value

When we work in spaces that lead to positive social outcomes, we’re creating social value. This concept is part of many discussions around social enterprise, non-profit work, social service provision and other acts targeted towards improving overall well-being. While many of these topics continue to evolve in a modern context, the concept of social value is anything but new. The recent focus is more of a return to a broader concept of value than it is a new innovative theory.

Social Value Portal offers a succinct definition of social value:

“Social Value refers to wider financial and non-financial impacts of programmes, organisations and interventions, including the wellbeing of individuals and communities, social capital and the environment.”

Social value is a more holistic view of value and, while it is incredibly relevant today, this view stretches far back into history. Indigenous communities offer an important frame of reference wherein traditional communities valued the community as a whole and interconnected group. The land and nature was held in balance with the needs of people and this worldview includes implicit social value considerations.

Settlers also, for centuries, engaged in a system with a broader sense of value that included barter and a greater accumulation of social capital through close-knit community.

Through colonization, conflict and, eventually, industrialization, the idea of economic value usurped what had been fundamental, non-monetary aspects of value. While economic value was easily standardized and quantifiable, it may have over-simplified the relationship between value and the well-being of individuals and communities.

This narrow focus on economic value has led to great disparities between the wealthy and the poor and has cultivated a sense of powerlessness for many. This is largely why the emergent social enterprise sector is promising and exciting work for many that engage in it.

Social enterprise is restoring a broader sense of value and individual purpose in the work we choose to do. It is generating benefits that have a ripple effect on customers, employees, and communities, as opposed to a traditional linear relationship between business and consumer.

By considering the broader impact of our work and incorporating this into planning, development and action, we are actively creating social value alongside the necessary economic value required to sustain any entrepreneurial endeavour. This return to considering and incorporating the social value of our work is become a critical part of operations for organizations across all sectors and honouring the origins of this concept can lead to new inspiration and innovation.