I might really regret this

Robbie Semple

Robbie Semple, On Purpose Fellow (April 2013) and founder of the graduate programme Worthwhile, braces himself for the fallout from really honest reporting.

My eyes tend to glaze over when I read impact reports: Universal improvements in all in outcomes; smiling, happy beneficiaries; a manicured narrative of success. You can practically hear “Everything is Awesome!” from The Lego Movie playing in the background.

Reading about what’s working for organisations facing the same challenges should be the most interesting part of the job. But it’s not. Because anyone working in a similar organisation knows that a shiny-happy-impact-report is a shiny-happy-myth. Running any organisation is hard; running an organisation that works to deliver social and financial return in a broken market is harder. We all know this. Why not be honest?

Everything is not awesome, and that’s ok (© Trev Grant)
Everything is not awesome… and that’s ok (© Trev Grant)

So with that in mind, at Worthwhile we’ve made some decisions we might end up regretting in our reporting. First, we have made all our raw data available. We believe radical transparency is at the heart of a better conversation about impact.

Secondly, we’ve outlined our theory of change. But rather than focusing on just ourselves, we have included data from other organisations working on the same outcomes. Our hope is to highlight the great work being done by the likes of Charity-Works and Year Here; to let potential customers investigate their options; and to start a conversation among similar organisations about where we can help each other, push each other, and achieve the greatest shared impact.

Finally, there is an open comment section on every impact page of our website. We want to create the space for conversation with anyone wanting to engage.

The result — even having consciously made these decisions — is a report that is weird to read. It has certainly made me realise how conditioned I am to expect unconditionally positive news in an impact report.

The social impact sector continually agonises about how the dynamics of our market make it harder for us to scale than for commercial ventures. Maybe we need to think more about the dynamics of our market that allow us to scale in a way private enterprises can’t. It’s not my aim to earn a kajillion pounds with a high profile exit for Worthwhile. I’m hugely ambitious, but success could take a number of forms, including a contribution to the massive, viral success of a would-be competitor. Freed from the need to crush the competition, do the dynamics of our market allow us to learn from each other and scale collective impact more aggressively?

They say there’s a fine line between bravery and stupidity. Time will tell which side we’re walking on.

On Purpose is now recruiting for the October 2015 cohort. Find more about it here