The Channels Blog

Understanding The Digital Side of Social Impact

By Tanya Kathuria

Tanya Kathuria is a young communications lead at a social impact consultancy in India, a volunteer for Erasmus Mundus Association’s social media team and a Marketing Manager (pro-bono) at IC-Impact Consulting. She hopes to change the way youth look at social change through digital media and understand change behavior for social impact in the society.

When someone asks me what I do, I tell them I work in the social impact sector. They often jump to the conclusion that the work involves toiling in the sun conducting research surveys and not making enough money. This stereotype has enabled a lot of bias towards the actual work the development sector accomplishes, especially where I come from: India. Social Impact has grown to become far more tech savvy and recreational than it was 10 years ago; and owing to the global pandemic, social organizations and nonprofits alike have started investing their time and resources in building digital communities, a social media presence and enabling a digital rendezvous with their beneficiaries every week or so. There is a huge difference in how social impact industry experts view change and how the layman view change in the industry.

I, for one, work as a communications lead for a social impact consultancy in India and I see change in aspects of behavioral change on the internet, internet activism, strategizing social impact based on insights from latest social media trends etc. As more young people join the industry, more awareness is created on how to reach out digitally. Although there are many tech savvy industry leaders who are ‘boomers’, trends are usually based on what Gen-Z or Millennials are doing on the internet.

everything is digital!

Understanding the digital side of social impact comes with the prerequisite belief that things can change in an informational explosive environment. Whether we are using an Instagram reel to address issues in our policy regimes or conducting geopolitical data analysis to understand economic and geographical enablers; everything IS digital! Having said that, the industry still needs to undergo a HUGE digital transformation to harness the true power digitizing holds.

With that being said, the current system does not account for user-centric content on digital platforms; most social organizations are still posting what they feel is relevant while disregarding what the beneficiary and the audience want to engage with. When we talk about digital transformation in the social sector, I think it is important to take in account who we are working for and who we want to educate; and also indulge in a stakeholder analysis at every step of the way especially when we are creating social media strategies.

User-Centric Data Solutions

There is a simple solution which can be integrated in our digital strategies: understanding the experience of the person we aim to serve and leverage our technology to cater to their usage and benefit. Right now, our strategies are one-dimensional and focus on singular goals which are business driven - we need to work on strategies that are multipurpose and focus on lived experience rather than practitioner experience. It is a simple theory of understanding the psyche of your user and what their voice is; corporate digital strategies are simpler to implement because they are business driven but social impact comes with the prerequisite belief that our efforts need to be socially impactful, meaningful, and morally ethical to the society we serve at large. This comes with a lot of user-driven data- knowing what motivates your audience, your beneficiary, and your other stakeholders.

Internet Activism: A Practical Approach to Social Impact

Internet activism has been present since the early 2000s; whether people posted subreddits or comments in blog communities in the early 2000s or now engage in full-fledged digital campaigns on issues like menstrual health, mental health, cultural diaspora, WASH, etc. A digital outlook in the social sector encompasses more than just capacity building, knowledge management and fundraising but also includes dissemination of information that is socially relevant to the society we’re directly working with. Here, taking a practical approach in our methodology is one of the directions we can work on.

People, Processes and Technology

According to many social impact leaders, the four key pillars to enabling digital transformation in a social sector organization are: engaging constituents; empowering workers; optimizing operations; and innovating to create new mission-aligned solutions, products, and services. Personally, I think internal leaders and team members understanding the importance of digital transformation and taking it seriously are the first steps to creating a positive digital social impact strategy. If I talk about India, many organizations lack capacity enablers but that again is a tool to accelerate digital growth—not the crux of it. If our teams are motivated enough and have a simpler understanding of the need of digital capacity building is the next and obvious step.

All Talk.

A lot of talk is going on about the pros and cons of digital in social impact but with the world being digitally dependent on each other, the question of not being digitally competent is redundant. On a personal note, I look at social impact as being user-driven and when I ask myself where the users are now? It answers most of my doubts. And yes, before you say “but what about digital literacy gaps and the digital divide especially in countries like India?” - I agree that there is a long road ahead and not just in India but also other third world countries where most social impact organizations, NGOs, NPOs primarily function in BUT that doesn’t mean that you disregard the opportunity of building and transforming digitally - while your beneficiary might not be immediately catered to, they will in the long run. Establishing short term vs long term goals in the scheme of things is also important to establish change behavior amongst social sector employees/leaders/stakeholders.

The pathway is simple, it just needs to be aligned with present organizational goals and developmental indicators.

What do you think: are we anywhere near our digital goals in the social sector? Let us know in the comments!

Understanding The Digital Side of Social Impact by Tanya Kathuria - share this blog post with those who are interested in social impact communications!