17 February 2016

Measuring impact

Students at the SOS Children's Villages primary school in Bangui, Central African Republic. More than 400 children are enrolled at the school. Photographer: Conor Ashleigh

With the help of a major global management consultancy, SOS Children’s Villages has developed a system for measuring how a donor’s contribution translates into improving children’s lives.

What SOS Children’s Villages does is easy to measure: We operate in 134 countries, reaching 360,000 adults and children through family strengthening programmes, and caring for 78,000 in SOS families. We could wheel out plenty more statistics: about the amount of money we’ve spent, and the numbers of homes, schools and medical centres we’ve set up.
 
But how to measure the impact that we have? It’s more than just what we deliver – such as giving out supplies, providing vocational training for parents, or helping mothers get pre-natal support. It should be about how lives are improved, how communities grow, how the fabric of society is strengthened. That’s what impact really is. Plenty of organisations are very good about accounting for services they deliver, but real impact is actually a very difficult thing to measure.
 
It’s especially so for us. SOS Children’s Villages supports children and families in very difficult situations over the long term, and sometimes it’s not clear what the impact is until long after we start. We’re not just concerned about short-term outcomes. Success for us is about long-term improvement in lives.
 
Success is also about supporting others who share our mission. SOS Children’s Villages gets involved in strengthening community networks, working with NGO partners, and advocating for governments to improve how they deliver their services for vulnerable children and families. So our impact shouldn’t just be measured by what we ourselves deliver, but by what is delivered by those whom we empower.
 
What’s more, when so many individuals and organisations donate money to SOS Children’s Villages, they deserve to know what results are being achieved. Shouldn’t donors be allowed to see a monetary value for the impact that their donation achieves – a social return on investment? But how does one put a financial value on improving children’s lives?
 
Sounding complicated, right? Fortunately, some very bright people at Boston Consulting Group helped us tackle the challenge, and together we have developed a formal and rigorous model for impact assessment.
 
When tested in two locations of SOS programmes, the methodology showed that SOS Children’s Villages delivered a social return of more than €4 for every €1 invested.
 
 
Much more detail is available in an article published on the Boston Consulting Group website.
 
But briefly put, the methodology starts by interviewing former SOS programme participants and assessing outcomes in eight dimensions:
 
  • Care
  • Shelter
  • Protection
  • Food
  • Physical health
  • Livelihood
  • Education and skills
  • Social and emotional well-being
 
To calculate the economic impact, the model factors in such financial numbers as former programme participants’ projected lifetime incomes, financial benefits to the community, and government cost savings (achieved because they do not have to provide social support services, which they would have done had an individual not achieved self-sustainability). In addition, the impact of breaking the cycle of poverty or social exclusion has even longer-term benefits, so the methodology factors in the financial income of the next generation.
 
The model is still being refined, and we’re currently gathering data in five more countries. A report on the next stage will be coming out in summer 2016.
 
Check out the video:


 

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