What Are We Doing, Really?

Unique Contributions, Unique Challenges

At Common Good Solutions, we're committed to supporting the start-up and growth of enterprises that help local communities thrive - enterprises like:

  • Justus! Coffee Roasters Co-operative - who "contribute to a sane world where peoples' needs and the wellbeing of our planet are put before greed";
  • The Wolfville Farmers' Market - whose mission is to "provide a fair and direct market venue for locally-produced goods and services in an environment that inspires and nourishes community";
  • Baker's Choice Fine Foods (owned and operated by the Flowercart) - who provide supported training and employment to adults considered to have an intellectual disability;
  • CarShare Halifax - that provides people an economical, sustainable alternative to owning a car; and
  • Centre Stage Theatre -  whose purpose is  to foster and encourage community theatre, artistic and practical development of its members and of people in the local area, and to stimulate co-operation between the Society and all persons and groups active in community theatre in Nova Scotia.

These enterprises are structured as private companies, co-operatives, societies, charities, and informal community initiatives.  Some refer to these enterprises as the "fourth sector", which take the best parts of the private, nonprofit, and public sectors and do something new and valuable.  And what they're doing is using a business model - selling valuable products and services to paying customers - to sustainably contribute to the wellbeing and genuine progress of their respective communities.  It's this intentional and overarching focus on the wellbeing and genuine progress of local communities that we feel is fundamental to the work of these enterprises and the sector they are part of.  We think that this is one of the most important innovations to hit society in a long time; something that holds great promise at a time when we're confronted daily with the limitations of business as usual.

One challenge that comes with this important work is defining and measuring the impact that these enterprises are making.  The traditional measures of sales, employment and profit only tell one important aspect of the value of these enterprises, and, perhaps with the exception of employment, they don't get at the direct contribution to community wellbeing.  In the absence of a clear, measurable description of wellbeing, we run the risk of overlooking and failing to maximize the real value of these enterprises.  If, like they say, you get what you measure, then it stands to reason that not measuring is a missed opportunity.  But how do you measure "wellbeing" and "genuine progress"?  Luckily, people who are far smarter than us have already done that work for us.

Two Frameworks for Measuring What Matters

GPI (Genuine Progress Indicator) Atlantic, a Nova Scotia-based non-profit research and education organization, invested over 15 years to develop a practical framework to measure sustainability, wellbeing and quality of life.  They are currently working with the government of Bhutan (home of the other GDP - Gross Domestic Happiness) to implement a framework to guide government decision-making.  The GPI gets at measuring wellbeing through a framework made up of five domains, each with their own component measures:

  1. Time use - civic and voluntary work, unpaid household work and childcare, leisure time, and paid work hours /employment
  2. Living standards - income distribution, financial security and debt, and economic security
  3. Human and social capital - population health, safety and security, and educational attainment
  4. Natural capital - soils and agriculture, forests, fisheries and marine environment, air quality, water quality
  5. Human impact on the environment - energy use, solid waste, ecological footprint, greenhouse gas emissions, and transportation

A quick scan of this framework gives you a sense of the menu of measures you might draw from in assessing the impact of your social enterprise, and how the GPI seeks to move well beyond limited financial measures of progress.  For complete details on the GPI, go to www.gpiatlantic.org or download their "New Policy Directions" document at www.gpiatlantic.org/pdf/integrated/new_policy_directions.pdf

The Canadian Index of Wellbeing (or CIW), based at Waterloo University, shares many similarities with the GPI.  They define wellbeing as follows:

"The presence of the highest possible quality of life in its full breadth of expression, focused on but not necessarily limited to: good living standards, robust health, a sustainable environment, vital communities, an educated populace, balanced time use, high levels of democratic participation, and access to and participation in leisure and culture." [1]

For each of its eight domains of wellbeing, the CIW provides a set of specific measures.  For more details on the CIW, go to http://ciw.ca and for a free copy of their publication, How Are Canadians Really Doing? at http://bit.ly/NfzH1m

What both the GPI and the CIW give us is a clear definition of wellbeing and a structured way to measure it, which we can use to assess how our enterprises are contributing to wellbeing and genuine progress.  And they give us a clear language to communicate our value.   So, Second Stage Theatre could measure and talk about how they enhance access to and participation in leisure and culture; CarShare Halifax  could measure and talk about how they reduce human impact on the environment; and Baker's Choice Fine Foods could measure and talk about how they contribute to enhanced living standards.

How does (or might) your social enterprise contribute to wellbeing and genuine progress?  How might it help your cause if you could clearly describe the impact you're making - to prospective customers, employees, investors and other important stakeholders.  Imagine how much better you'd get at creating that impact if you had clear goals and a simple way to keep score?  It could change everything.

How Common Good Solutions Can Help 

If this sounds good, but you're not sure what to do next, we can help.  We are experts at helping social enterprise leaders define their community impact, and translating that definition into a strategic framework that is easy to understand, measure and communicate.  With our help, your strategic framework would include the following key elements:

  • Your Community Vision Statement - What wellbeing and genuine progress would ultimately and ideally look like for your community;
  • Your Enterprise's Mission Statement - Your enterprise's role in helping achieve your community vision (what you will do, for whom, and how); and
  • Your Three- to Five-Year Community Impact Goals -The specific improvements you are seeking to achieve in your community's wellbeing, en route to its long-term vision.

A well-defined strategic framework answers the "What are we doing, really?" question, in terms that will matter to your customers and your investors.  And it will provide clear direction for you and your team about how to move forward and how to keep score as you go.

If this is something that you'd like to explore, email us at andy.horsnell@commongoodsolutions.ca or, better yet, call us at 902-300-9725.

[1]Canadian Index of Wellbeing. (2011). How are Canadians Really Doing? Highlights: Canadian Index of Wellbeing 1.0. Waterloo, ON: Canadian Index of Wellbeing and University of Waterloo.