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What is 'Real' Impact?

Posted by David Laity on
What is 'Real' Impact?

I recently had the opportunity to speak at the national conference for social enterprises and came away very challenged by the impact Goodwill Wine is making. We donate money to a lot of good causes and we couldn't do it without your support, but the question of 'what is real impact?' came up at one of the breakout sessions and I found myself confronted by the huge range of definitions.

There are many organisations who's job it is to determine 'impact' but they seem to have wildly different guidelines, ranging from 'the intent of a business' (which felt extremely loose to me) right through to 'if you didn't exist would anything have changed'. This last one stopped me in my tracks. To me this definition rang true and I wondered what would change if Goodwill Wine didn't exist?

I imagined Sea Shepherd out on the oceans doing their work or Animals Australia conducting their investigations overseas. I thought about the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre providing meals and services to people in need or The Orangutan Project rehoming Orangutans who's habitat has been destroyed. I concluded that these wonderful organisations would be doing their work with or without us. This realisation was devastating.

I spoke at this particular conference alongside some amazing social enterprises and aired these doubts. It was pointed out to me that these charities rely upon a groundswell of support and Goodwill Wine is doing 'its bit', but just as importantly we are showing other businesses that there is a sustainable alternative to the relentless pursuit of profit at all cost.

While very positive, this feedback still left me feeling like we weren't doing enough, and then by luck I found myself at lunch on the last day sitting next to one of the leading international experts on social enterprise. This man is a giant in this space and had come from overseas to speak.

He was interested in what Goodwill Wine is doing and while he understood my concerns regarding impact, he pointed out something that I was embarrased I hadn't taken into account.

Goodwill Wine is employing from Australia's disadvantaged. In fact half of our team have been made up from either people who were long term unemployed or living with a disability, and they have all earned above award wages. He reminded me that this is significant for our staff as it provides them with a sense of dignity and purpose and while our other impacts have great merit, these employment opportunities can be life-changing.  

I wanted to share this little internal battle with you. I started down this road ten years ago and there have been many moments of self doubt along the way. This business was begun as a way to reward the supporters of good causes, but the irony is that you have been supporting us as well. Thank you for helping make a difference.

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