An introduction to Social Return on Investment, What Is SROI ?

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Social return on investment (SROI) is a method for measuring values that are not traditionally reflected in financial statements, including social, economic and environmental factors. They can identify how effectively a company uses its capital and other resources to create value for the community. While a traditional cost-benefit analysis is used to compare different investments or projects, SROI is used more to evaluate the general progress of certain developments, showing both the financial and social impact the corporation can have. Social Return on Investment (SROI) is an outcomes-based measurement tool that helps organisations to understand and quantify the social, environmental and economic value they are creating.

Developed from traditional cost-benefit analysis and social accounting, SROI is a participative approach that is able to capture in monetised form the value of a wide range of outcomes, whether these already have a financial value or not. An SROI analysis produces a narrative of how an organisation creates and destroys value in the course of making change in the world. Social Return on Investment (SROI) is a systematic way of incorporating social, environmental, economic and other values into decisionmaking processes.

By helping reveal the economic value of social and environmental outcomes it creates a holistic perspective on whether a development project or social business or enterprise is beneficial and profitable. This perspective opens up new opportunities and forms the basis for innovative initiatives that genuinely contribute to positive social change. SROI places the perspectives of the different stakeholders at the centre of the valuation process.

SROI originated in the USA from social enterprises interested in new ways to value the contributions they were making to society. It later arrived in Europe, where there is an increasing interest in the methodology as noted by recent publications by Context international cooperation in the Netherlands, the New Economics Foundation in the UK and the SROI Network headquartered in the UK.

What Is SROI ?

SROI is the acronym for Social Return on Investment, a relatively new and exciting tool for communicating your non profit benefits to the community. According to The New Economics Foundation, SROI “captures social value by translating outcomes into financial values.” SROI is similar to ROI but shows the double bottom line: the financial impact AND the social impact of an organization’s work.

According to SROI guide SROI is a framework to measure and account for the value created by programme initiatives, beyond financial value. It incorporates social, environmental and economic costs and benefits. SROI puts a value on the amount of change (impact) that takes place as a result of the programme and looks at the returns to those who contribute to creating the change. It estimates a financial value for this change and compares this value to the investment required to achieve that impact, resulting in an SROI ratio. SROI method is a participatory, beneficiary-led approach which uses financial values defined by programme beneficiaries to represent social, environmental and economic outcomes.

One of the most important aspects of the process is the development of an impact map demonstrating the impact value chain for each stakeholder group [3]. It links a stakeholders’ objectives to inputs made into the programme, to outputs, through to the outcomes. It then identifies indicators of achievement of outcomes which are capable of being quantified by applying financial proxies. The next step in the process is to estimate how much of the outcome would have happened anyway and what proportion of the outcome the programme is responsible for. This is achieved by looking at four filters, namely: Deadweight, Displacement, Attribution and Drop off [4]. In the end, comparison of net programme impact (converted in monetary terms) with investment value required to achieve thee impact yields a ratio of benefits to costs.

Social Return on Investment (SROI) is an organizational method of accounting for value creation, primarily social or environmental value. SROI enables organizations to measure how much change is being created by tracking relevant social, environmental, and economic outcomes. The key difference between SROI and other methodologies is the assignation of monetary values to the amount of change created.When someone invests money in a company, he/she expects that the benefits resulting from the investment will be greater than the amount of the investment. In the case of a for-profit company, this is readily measured using conventional accounting methods.

However, a company creates more value than is shown in its financial statement. Its employees receive value in many forms, including: wages, benefits, increased feelings of self-worth, and camaraderie with other employees. Customers receive value from the goods and services provided by the company. Society receives benefits from the company because people who are gainfully employed pay taxes that can be used to provide services for the entire community, and do not require welfare and other social service assistance.

Most managers run their businesses based on financial value and overlook the social and environmental impact their businesses create on society and human being. However, the past decade has seen increasing interest in measuring the social impact of projects, programs, organisations, businesses, and policies. SROI is useful to corporations because it can improve program management through better planning and evaluation. It can also increase the corporation’s understanding of its effect on the community and allow better communication regarding the value of the corporation’s work (both internally and to external stakeholders). Philanthropists, venture capitalists, foundations and other non-profits may use SROI to monetize their social impact, in financial terms.

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