Photos provided by Purppl
Written by Angela de Burger
The Adopting Common Measures program is highlighting key social purpose organizations across Canada and showcasing their impact and the progress they are making towards a more sustainable future for Canadians in keeping with Canada’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
“It can sound so simple yet it can be so complex,” says Andrew Greer, Managing Director and Co-Founder of Purppl, about measuring and tracking social impact.
The organization he founded and leads was specifically created to support purposeful people (hence the portmanteau of the name: Purppl), in developing their capacity to implement models for sustainable business practices and positive social impact.
Purposeful people practicing what they promote
Walking their talk is part and parcel of what Andrew and his team of three staff members do every day. It’s a two-pronged effort: (1) they themselves work to achieve Purppl’s own social impact goals by (2) working with leaders to create, develop and/or strengthen their respective social impact businesses and organizations.
Andrew’s passion for this work began a decade ago when he was employed in the tech sector, sparked by an intense desire to make a meaningful difference in the area of climate change. He saw the effects it was having on the world and personally took action, for example by recycling and volunteering to build off-grid homes. However, he became frustrated and felt helpless about the depth of impact he could have on his own.
With concentrated effort and research, he came to the conclusion that some of the root causes of climate change were economic issues. He determined that without changing those economic problems, climate change couldn’t be adequately impacted. With this realization came the impetus to launch Purppl.
Eight years later, they’ve worked with 80+ social enterprises and social purpose organizations, each making a meaningful difference on social issues across many different sectors.
Andrew Greer, Managing Director and Co-Founder of Purppl
Doing things differently
Being located in Kelowna, British Columbia, Andrew had the opportunity to choose to incorporate Purppl as a Community Contribution Company (CCC), a relatively new business structure that is unique to that province. A CCC must allocate at least 60% of its profit toward a social purpose, a requirement that continues even in a case where the organization is dissolved.
From its earliest days, Purppl implemented tracking for data and impact. This included monitoring indicators such as revenue growth and diversity as anchor points.
“We didn’t follow any established practices at the time,” says Andrew. “Now we know of the Common Approach for Impact Measurement, but at the beginning we just started charting our own course.”
“As of five years ago, we added to our efforts by starting to measure social impact as well,” he continues. “We began to use a theory of change to help us determine and clarify the impact we wanted to create and how we intended to affect real change in the world. This process is what led us to the Common Approach.”
Andrew adds, “we chose to measure and track in these ways because we wanted to know if and how our efforts were effective.”
Tracking not just the quantitative but the qualitative too
In addition to key quantitative financial markers such as customer revenue growth and revenue diversity (philanthropy, government, customer, investors), Purppl is also moving into assessing the qualitative information they gather from clients. For example, a perceived increase in capacity is an intriguing measure to tap into, such as whether their client feels they have increased their leadership capacity as a result of working with Purppl. By using measures such as the Likert scale (and others) when gathering feedback and stories, they further enrich the data set that’s available to them.
Their goal is to know whether or not they are making real change, adjusting and updating their work to realign if needed.
Fostering social impact frameworks
Purppl works together with social entrepreneurs and impact leaders to build regenerative enterprises and initiatives that address the root causes of systemic inequity. They do this in many different ways, by: offering tactical, functional expertise through coaching, consulting and collaborating; creating opportunities for social entrepreneurs to connect with each other (because you can’t do this alone!); presenting social impact measurement workshops; and engaging in impact investing in collaboration with Scale Collaborative through the Thrive Impact Fund.
“In the early days, social impact measurement wasn’t top of mind for our clients. It has emerged as a bigger factor over the years, with both the importance placed on it and the sophistication of measurement increasing over time,” shares Andrew.
“Social entrepreneurs today want to know what’s happening and why – if something is working, they want to figure out how to amplify it, and if something isn’t working, they consider whether they should continue doing it or not,” says Andrew. “By supporting them to establish social impact tracking and measurement initiatives, they get the information they need to make those kinds of determinations.”
“More than ever, our clients want to recognize patterns so they can understand how they can improve. We typically start with a six-month coaching agreement but they tend to extend once they experience the benefits of our supportive working relationship,” explains Andrew. “Our goal is for them to have a sustainable, regenerative business model that will take them well into the future.”
Measuring social impact
“We began tracking social impact measures in HubSpot even though the (customer relationship management) platform wasn’t specifically designed for that,” shares Andrew. “We‘ve customized and hacked it, making it work for us up to this point, but as we expand our own social impact tracking goals we are really pushing its boundaries. As we move past tracking a few quantitative metrics and into tracking real, qualitative outcomes, we now need dedicated impact measurement software. CSI’s Impact Dashboard is a solid, free option. With our expanding needs, we are now implementing Sametrica’s software. It’s fully aligned with the Common Impact Data Standard and will better meet our growing needs.”
“In terms of the information and indicators we track and measure, they are still in development – we are still tweaking and shifting.”
He notes, “one of the challenges social impact organizations can face is the cost of solid, reputable impact tracking platforms. It’s a barrier for many groups we work with and that’s always something that has to be considered and balanced out in terms of the value a particular platform can provide. The Impact Dashboard is a great starting point. It’s aligned with the Common Impact Data Standard, it’s free to use, and it allows you to get started with dedicated impact measurement software.”
Linking local action to national and global impact
Andrew says Purppl has given consideration to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) but it can be difficult to determine how locally-focused work connects to the global indicators. “I wouldn’t say that the SDGs are driving us but we are aligned with them. Our work in local communities is the driving force behind our work.”
“We are using some of the indicators from the Canadian and global indicator banks to measure contribution and impact,” says Andrew. “Initially it wasn’t an overly in-depth thought process in terms of determining where our work best aligned but after seeing the simplicity of aligning with national and sector based indicators, we are now getting a much clearer picture. Some helpful indicator banks include the Canadian Index of Wellbeing, the Canadian Indicator Framework for the SDGs, and some of Statistics Canada’s subject-based hubs like the Quality of Life Hub.”
“Our work mainly connects to SDGs #8 Decent Work and Economic Growth, #5 Gender Equality (a lot of women are leading social impact organizations), #10 Reduced Inequalities (a focus on social enterprise), and #17 Partnerships for the Goals (related to data).
The social entrepreneurs Purppl works with cover a very broad spectrum of the SDGs as they each focus on different sectors.
Building their skill set
The team at Purppl has embraced the opportunity to develop their skill sets in measuring and tracking social impact by approaching it in several different ways.
“We are trying to be sponges in this area,” says Andrew, with a smile.
One of their Entrepreneurs-in-Residence is doing a PhD program that includes impact measurement in the social sector and he is bringing those skills to their work.
“We also have a multi-year research relationship with Thompson Rivers University, focused on impact measurement and understanding our contribution to the impact of the social enterprises we work with,” shares Andrew.
Social entrepreneurship storytelling
“The concept of a social entrepreneur is not well known in the community at large,” says Andrew. “I feel we have a responsibility to tell inspiring, data-supported stories of the people who are doing good for our world. For example, Dreamrider is training superheroes of environmental protection in 400+ cities in their Planet Protector Academy. As a result, 50% of the families participating are driving and idling less and 60% are making less garbage.
At Purppl, we are embracing our role in sharing strengths-based stories of purposeful people who are committed to creating social impact.”