Social Impact Academy: How do you think about social impact?

Social Impact Academy: How do you think about social impact?

This week three panelists from GlobalGiving’s nonprofit partners shared how their organizations think about social impact in the second session of the Social Impact Academy. The discussion focused on how each organization defines, measures, and involves the community in social impact.

Session recording:

Session summary:

Joining us on the panel were:

Daniele Reisbig, Development Coordinator, The Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project
Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project began in 2001 as a response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Uganda. Initially the project focused on education for orphans and vulnerable children, but it now encompases a more holistic model incorporating education, health, and family support.

Daney Ramirez, Las Claras Director, Voces Vitales de Panama
Voces Vitales empowers female leaders through educational and psychological support. Las Claras is a project within Voces Vitales that specifically provides support for teen mothers.

Lisha McCormick, Chief Development Officer, Last Mile Health
Last Mile Health saves lives by bringing healthcare to some of the most remote communities in the world. It does so by working with community healthcare workers to successfully respond to communities’ needs.

What does it take for an organization to be social impact focused?


  • Bus Test: Does your organization pass the bus test? Do you have systems in place so that if, heaven forbid, a team member were hit by a bus, the organization could continue to carry out the project? Or, what if your organization disappeared? Would the community have been improved by your presence, or would it have developed a dependence on you?
  • Understand the ripple effect: Is your program empowering the community? Could you be negatively impacting the community by importing products from abroad that could be locally sourced?
  • Know the difference: Use qualitative and quantitative measurements to track outputs and outcomes.


  • Engage the community: The impact of your project spreads from your immediate beneficiaries to their community. Likewise, the community directly affects the outcome of your project. For an organization to be social impact focused, it must be engaged in community activities and actively taking part in addressing the community’s issues, even when the issues are not directly related to the project. That relationship has facilitated Voces Vitales’s entrance into its community, which has provided it access to resources and knowledge that will shape the program’s success.


  • Make hard measurements: At Last Mile Health, that includes reduction of child mortality, reduction of maternal mortality, improved health screenings. If you can measure it, you can manage it. Measurement allows you to understand the problem, to demonstrate the milestones your organization has reached, and to demonstrate your effectiveness.
  • Stay true to your mission: At Last Mile Health, impact is about challenging the status quo and pushing back on cynicism when people say “that community is not worth it.”

How do you measure the success of your programs?


  • You don’t need large financial resources to measure success.
  • Use information that is naturally collected. For example, to evaluate our educational facilities we look at our students’ academic performance on national exams compared to the national average. For healthcare, we compare the number of services given from year to year and conduct follow up evaluations to assess if the interventions work, patients had to come back, and if kids growing and developing.


  • Keep good records. Vital Voices uses a variety of integrated record-keeping processes to track and measure impact. For example, health care bills and attendance records help track the frequency of visits. Satisfaction surveys help measure and improve the quality of care to keep teen moms coming back.
  • Assess outcomes. In addition to tracking activity, Vital Voices also assesses impact by conducting psychological evaluations and tracking high school diploma completion rates, vocational training completion, and jobs obtained.


  • Establish a credible baseline. Last Mile Health discovered that government census data was off by 60% so we conducted our own baseline assessment.
  • Use data to identify service gaps. Once we found that child mortality was higher than expected we performed a rigorous assessment to find where the health system broke down, including community surveys. We found that we weren’t providing enough services in neonatal health which hindered us from achieving the desired health outcomes.
  • Use measurements to set goals & track progress. Using baseline data, Last Mile Health identified specific goals for improved health outcomes including a 33% reduction in child mortality, a 50% increase in antenatal services, and an end goal of 100% coverage by health workers for remote villages in Liberia. We hold ourselves accountable to impact and outcome indicators using  KPI (key performance indicators) assessments throughout the year, relying on both qualitative and quantitative data.

How is the community involved in determining your social impact?


  • Facilitate community ownership. The community is directly involved in our planning, programming, and evaluation. Community members take ownership over the organization through advisory committees and volunteering. We also involve self-organized and democratically led groups in productive dialogue. For example, our granny groups vote to determine how resources are used.


  • Understand community issues that affect project success. The community that Vital Voices supports had serious security concerns. By demonstrating interest and concern for this community issue, Vital Voices earned trust and respect for their programs. The key is to inform the community of your project and get them involved. Without acceptance from the community your impact will be minimal.


  • Ensure that community member’s voices are part of critical conversations. We did this by setting up community health committees and by committing to work with traditional midwives. This ensures that those who are identified as health caregivers and leaders in communities are integrated into our programs. We also communicate our project evaluations to the community which closes the feedback loop and demonstrates the good we are doing.

What does social impact mean for your organization?


  • A source of credibility with the community and supporters; it’s how we show we are worthy to be there. It helps us advocate for change by showing how well we are doing in the community, and also on the fact that other kids in the country need help.


  • Proves that we are using limited resources effectively. Social impact means being able to show results and gives credibility to your project. It also helps secure funding.


  • Mission-focused impact. We are looking to achieve closure in the access gap of everything from healthcare to jobs to education, a big task but something we are proud of. Initially we set our goals and measured social impact based on the number of people we helped. However, by the nature of our mission we operate in sparsely populated areas. To meet our goals we would have to go to areas with denser populations which was contrary to our mission. This taught our organization to pick impact milestones very carefully. We had to decide what we really wanted to strive towards. We chose to instead think about social impact as the number of communities we reach rather than individuals, although we measure both.

Question & Answer

Q: Do you include a separate budget line for impact evaluations in your budget?

Lisha: Sort of. We include monitoring and evaluation in our program framework, especially as we have grown. It also depends on the preferences of our funding partners.

Daniele: From the perspective of a smaller organization, we evaluate our outputs through internal daily functions (every nurse will mark down what they’ve done), not necessarily a line item. We also rely on external data and compare it to our data, i.e. the national rate vs. our rate of passing exams. Take time to make sure your staff are marking data and record data of people you interact with. This is a lower-budget way of assessing social impact.

Q: Daney talked about finding balance between issues affecting programs and the community, how can we find that balance?

Daney: You can’t ignore the situation surrounding your organization. You need to bond with the community and make sure it respects and accepts the project, that’s the only way you can be successful. Reach out to the community and let them see the good you’re doing first hand, then build that bond. We do one or two activities with the community each year that don’t require a lot of funding but lets them know you’re present.

Q: Do you have a checklist of the measurements you do? How do you make sure monitoring and evaluation is doable?

Daniele: We make sure teachers are invested in doing the evaluations. The main ingredient is to get everyone’s understanding and buy in. Take time to do training with staff. Explain what you are measuring and why it’s important. It could just be a simple survey and then recording it. We do assessment with education periodically throughout the year by using data that’s already being collected (grade reports). We keep medical records at the clinic and use those records to evaluate how we are doing with health care. In many cases you are measuring without realizing it. Ask how you can use that information to figure out what is happening.

Q: How did you identify what specific metrics you want to focus on? How did you decide to focus on jobs and high school diplomas obtained?

Daney: Basically our major mission is to help teen mothers be self-sustainable, which means that they should have jobs and the ability to feed their children. An easy way to assess this is to check whether they are employed.

Q: Do you seek additional funding for monitoring and evaluation?

Daniele: We don’t have a separate line item in our budget for M&E, but we do have some volunteers that have done great evaluations. There are scholastic programs in the US with students who are learning the things that you need. Set up partnerships, there are a lot of people out there who want to help and get experience. They are great alternative option if you are worried about expense.

Daney: It’s ideal for someone else to do your M&E for external validity but if you do not have the budget for external evaluation, it is still important to have an evaluation process.

Q: How do you explain to funders the social and political obstacles in some communities/countries? How do you deal with challenges in working with local leaders?

Lisha: Programs that feel like they are owned by a community are more successful. Local leadership’s involvement has a critical part in the success of a program.

On the political side there’s a lot we’re still learning. Whenever possible choose partners wisely. I am consistently humbled and impressed by public servants that have taken on their role with few resources and big goals to help their communities. There’s not a perfect or magic answer to this.

This post was written in collaboration with Kennan Howlett, Program Team Intern. 

No Comments

Comments Closed