Social enterprises exist not only to make a profit, but more importantly to make an impact. But it’s impossible to know how much impact is being made without measurement. Impact measurement is also key to growing and scaling a social enterprise.
Unmesh Sheth’s company, SoPact, provides an impact measurement and management technology platform to help any social enterprise scale their impact. Read the interview below for Unmesh’s insight on the importance of measurement.
Tell me more about your company and the work that you do.
Our company’s name is SoPact. We are the leading company in impact measurement and management. It’s a growing area for not just impact investment, which is doubling every year, but also for sustainable business and philanthropy. There’s a strong interest in this space. At the same time, as impact investment is growing, the need to also build the impact evidence in social business and social enterprise is critical for scaling social mission.
SoPact Impact Cloud is an impact measurement and management platform. It’s a technology platform that we have been working on for more than four and a half years. It’s been used by leading nonprofits, religious international development organizations, social enterprises, large asset owners, asset managers, and community development banks. It’s a platform that’s been used to manage the life cycle of impact measurement and management.
How did you come up with the idea to start this business?
It’s pretty accidental, I would say. I’m in technology, I was one of the early-stage innovators in the software integration space.
As much as I enjoyed cutting-edge technology, and leading, being in Silicon Valley, it was fun and exciting to have a nice paycheck and stock options.
Coming from India, issues of poverty, social inequality were core to my personal early childhood learning. My dad was very well known, political and social scientist. As much as I enjoyed the technology side of it, I wanted to use technology and data for the people, for the people who do not have any voices at all. That couldn’t be easy as a career change. I left the corporate career for good in 2010.
I was a technology advisor for largest nonprofit in the world, called SEWA. Then I worked in observing some of the changes in healthcare technology in tribal areas and saw a huge validation of what impact measurement can do to scale the social mission altogether. Later on I worked with an organization in Bangalore, with people with disabilities.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far throughout your career?
Through this whole journey, there are a couple of things that I learned. One thing is that oftentimes the grant makers or impact investors don’t really align their outcome with the organizations they fund.
Secondly, on the other hand, they keep on demanding all sorts of data in the form of monitoring and evaluation. Several billion dollars of data is collected, but there’s hardly any actionability out of that.
As someone who wanted to build something that can create a collaborative ecosystem, we felt initially that the philanthropic sector wasn’t for it because we felt it was not transparent enough. At the time impact investment was growing, the word impact measurement was very new. There was no word, impact measurement and management (IMM), as it was called social impact measurement. Everybody had a different definition of what impact measurement was.
Over the period of the last five, six years that area is quite concentrated and now it’s becoming quite important. I just came from four major world conferences such as GIIN, SOCAP, GSG, Social Value International. One thing that became very clear, that if impact investment is to grow, impact measurement and management has to be an integral part of the strategy. In fact, they are the two sides of a coin.
What advice would you give to other social entrepreneurs?
Many social entrepreneurs think such impact measurement is costly. They cringe at the word impact management. I want to warn them that social impact management is not about cost; it’s about learning and improving your mission. You cannot improve your social mission without learning the data from the stakeholders. That is a continuous exercise. It’s not a one time exercise. The organizations that take impact measurement seriously end up making very scalable businesses. I urge them not to wash off this particular term, impact measurement.
What’s your vision for the future, either for your business, or for the world, or for both?
I’m a big believer that social enterprises and sustainable businesses are critical to some of the major challenges that we see in the world.
I think impact investment is aligning to that particular call for action. In reality, impact investment is a very small part of a big puzzle that we need to focus on. Ultimately, the corporations of the world will have to pull into this thing to solve some of these giant issues that we see.
Social businesses are critical in terms of the way they are building a reference model for private and public sector in general. Our mission is to help every social business in the world in a scalable manner.
For that matter, as an organization, we are a mission driven social enterprise. We have already built a very robust, very flexible and comprehensive platform. Now our next challenge is to make an affordable platform available to every social enterprise, social business and nonprofit in the world. We are working through some of the processes on educating the market through the various different online training platforms like Youtube, Udemy, Lynda, to Coursera so people have a clear understanding of what different processes looks like. Ultimately, through the social impact accelerators and impact practitioners community,, we would love to reach every impact enterprise in the world.
What action do you want readers to take?
We want everybody to understand what impact measurement can help to scale social mission. One of the biggest things they should be focusing on is to learn from the data. If you look at the corporate world, the reason why they are where they are is that they continuously learn from the data. The same behavior needs to be ingrained, even in social businesses. I do realize that they have limited resources, and knowledge, and capacity, but it’s up to them to educate themselves in this space and understand the value. Most importantly, I urge them to reduce the fear of technology.
Is there anything that you’d like to add?
There is a lot that we need to do collectively in this world. I think the more we get aligned to the higher purpose, whatever mission that we have, let’s make sure that we do it with a clear intention in mind. If you are in social business, it’s vital that you remain very patient, that you stay within your means, and do something to integrate and improve continuously. A continuous rigor of applying those learnings is what ultimately is going to help you scale.
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