By Shiro Gnanaselvam, CEO and Pat Hanscom, Co-Founder
2021 marks an important year in the history of Social Impact as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of our founding. As a female co-founder of the company (Pat) and its first female CEO (Shiro) we feel that International Women’s Day is an opportune time to reflect on the ways SI helped to make international development more effective in improving people’s lives and in particular, the role women have played in that process.
Social Impact’s Beginnings
At the time of SI’s founding in 1996, we laid out key intentions for the company—be innovators in making development more effective and lead with a people-centered, results-focused approach. To this day, these foundational objectives are entrenched in our management approach and our corporate values which emphasize delivering quality, acting with integrity, collaboration and learning, and embracing camaraderie. While these intentions have taken many forms throughout the years, they have always been driven by our central aim of increasing development’s impact.
SI was founded at a time when governments around the world, including in the United States, were becoming more focused on improving accountability for achieving results with tax payer money. In the United States, the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA, 1993) set the stage for results based management approaches, including at agencies like USAID. As innovators starting up the company at that moment in history, we were at the forefront of designing and mainstreaming results-based management approaches whether it was through strategic planning, monitoring, evaluation of all kinds, capacity strengthening or gender mainstreaming. We are very proud of the lasting impact SI’s efforts in those early days had in helping shape the approaches of international development agencies such as USAID, the State Department, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. And on this International Women’s Day, we are particularly proud of our early contributions to gender-based work, as these approaches are now commonplace in the industry.
Social Impact Today
Today, Social Impact is a mid-sized company with 200 staff around the world. We are a recognized leader in the provision of planning, monitoring, evaluation and learning services. We have worked in over 120 countries and have transformed from a woman-owned small business composed of a handful of like-minded individuals to a thriving, diverse, organization with a global footprint. Throughout this growth, our founding values have been at the forefront of both our culture and work.
We remain a women-owned company but we are also now led by a female CEO and are proud that 57% of our Senior Management Team is female. Globally 53% of our staff are female and at HQ that number is close to 70%. We are proud of powerful female leadership at every level of our organization.
The Next 25 Years
The world has changed dramatically since SI’s founding and it will continue to change in the future. As a company we have been incredibly innovative and agile in the first chapter of our history, and we fully expect this to continue as we look to the future and embrace new opportunities.
Internally, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) will be an important aspect of our company’s future as it will be for many organizations in our sector. While we are enormously proud of the diversity that already exists in the company, we hope to build on it to enhance equity and inclusion approaches in everything we do. As we noted in the commitment to racial justice that we made last summer, we are working on DEI at the individual, company and sector level. Working through an Internal Pro-Equity Task Force that we stood up in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, we have already shifted priorities to focus on DEI-related learning for staff such as unconscious bias training and professional development opportunities. We have also conducted an internal DEI assessment and intend to implement the recommendations this year and in the coming years. At the industry level, we are spearheading a grassroots, pro-bono, effort to design and implement our sector’s first DEI survey. The Benchmarking Race, Inclusion, & Diversity in Global Engagement (BRIDGE) survey will launch in mid-March and will provide a diversity snapshot of our sector at the staff, leadership and board levels as well as invaluable data on equity and inclusion strategies that development and humanitarian organizations are taking. These efforts build on our original values and objectives to make development more effective, with recognition that change within our company and industry is critical to dismantling historic inequities and rebuilding fairer systems.
Over 25 years, SI has provided critical support to donors and implementing partners on thousands of projects globally throughout economic recessions, five United States Government administrations, changing donor environments, the HIV AID and Ebola epidemics and now a global pandemic. While the world around us has changed, we are proud that our unwavering commitment to our mission to make development more effective, has endured. Our inspiring staff and their substantial contributions to the industry make us optimistic for the possibilities the next 25 years will hold for Social Impact.