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Hi <<First name>>,

Every week we talk to, learn from, and are inspired by amazing people doing innovative things in the world of social value and we are excited to share some of those conversations with you.

This month, I've been persuaded that you might like to hear about me! Samtaler is at the forefront of a new wave of social value conversations and we're lucky to work with some ambitious and enthusiastic clients who are constantly pushing us to think about how we can help them create social value and drive growth. I hope you enjoy reading about some of what I have learned (and am continuing to learn!)

Join the conversation online #socialvaluefiles and hit reply to let me know what you think.

Sarah
www.samtaler.co.uk
Tell us about what you do?

I help organisations to find practical ways to create social value in a way that also benefits them and builds economic value. Often that's helping them to maximise the positive impact of their activities and mitigate the negative.
 
Lots of organisations don’t even realise that they are operating in a way that might be unintentionally having a negative impact on their stakeholders. For instance, a business might outsource its recruitment process without thinking about how this could be preventing local people from seeing and applying for jobs. That’s where I come in, to identify the issues, spot the opportunities for change and to map out the solution.
 

There’s a school of thought that economic and social value are mutually exclusive. How would, you dispute this argument?

Businesses are not charities. We need businesses to thrive and be profitable because they are the life blood of our economy. They provide the jobs, that pay the wages, that pay the taxes that pay the public sector and keep everything going.
 
An essential part of my philosophy has always been that creating social value must also contribute to the economic value of the company. In the short-term, it might cost more money (although, not always) but in the long-term it will always build value for your business.
 

So, businesses should see it less as ‘doing the right thing’ and concentrate on the benefits of creating social value?

Exactly. The businesses that do it well do see the benefits from the outset and once you start doing it you won’t look back. You will have better relationships with your staff which makes them more loyal because they enjoy working for a company that ‘does the right thing’; it’s easier to recruit because people are attracted to working for you; more people will want to buy from you; and it strengthens your broader stakeholder relationships, especially if some of your stakeholders are policymakers or the public sector because this is such a huge priority for them at the moment.
 
I think we have to remember here that corporations are not just faceless entities. They are all just a collection of human beings making decisions. The media might tell a different story, but generally speaking ‘malpractice’ in business is rarely intentional or criminal. Most people want to do the right thing.

 
If there are so many benefits to be had, why don’t organisations already do these things?

I used to ask myself the same question when I worked in politics for David Cameron as his external relations adviser. I’d see all these companies spending millions lobbying the government to change things – things we knew consumers wanted - and I used to think, if you weren’t trying to lobby government to make a change and you just made that change, then policymakers would come to you and you wouldn’t have to spend all this money.
 
The problem is that the way that companies are structured means that if something becomes law, then it becomes someone’s job to make sure the company complies with legislation. If it’s not law then those systems and processes just aren’t in place. But the government doesn’t like to use legislation because it takes a long time to bring onto the books, so it uses other mechanisms to encourage change by publishing policy documents and other papers and reviews, and the organisations that pay attention to these are the ones on the front foot.
 
For instance, the new Social Value Model includes lots of outcomes and policy recommendations that have never been made legislation and probably never will be legislation for lots of different reasons, but businesses still have a lot to gain from taking these recommendations seriously.
 
 A big part of what I do is taking the policymaker intentions - identifying what the government would like companies to do - and translating that into plain English and finding practical ways that companies can deliver these things. A lot of this isn’t political. It’s just common sense.
 
We touched on how social value can drive-up costs, at least in the short-term. Is this a barrier for some businesses?

Good social value is just good business. It shouldn’t drive costs up. That’s one of the things I am working really hard to combat against. I do worry that social value could go down the road of health and safely or GDPR, in the sense that it could be misconstrued as an excuse to do the bare minimum or turned it into another laborious hoop for suppliers to jump through. It certainly shouldn’t be used as a reason to ask suppliers for things that are unreasonable or too expensive.
 
Good social value is about collaborative working in a way that benefits everyone involved. Once you understand it and you see how it’s going to grow your business and how you can do it in a way that doesn’t raise your costs, it suddenly seems the obvious way to do business.

 
<span>Photo by <a href="https://unsplash.com/@viazavier?utm_source=unsplash&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_content=creditCopyText">Laura Ockel</a> on <a href="https://unsplash.com/s/photos/windfarm?utm_source=unsplash&amp;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_content=creditCopyText">Unsplash</a></span>
Where should organisations start when it comes to creating social value?

You have to ask the right people the right questions to enable you to identify what you might be doing wrong and where the opportunities are for you to do things differently. Often times it’s just simple improvements that go on to make the biggest difference.
 
An example here is that I’ve recently worked with a wind farm company who are undertaking a lot of tree felling and replanting. I suggested that there might be other ways to improve the biodiversity of the site so we spoke to the company’s stakeholders and people in the local community and found out there was a pond that was a really important site for biodiversity and that locals had wanted to flood and expand for years. Blocking the stream and expanding the pond hardly cost the wind farm company anything, but it had a big positive impact in the community and on the environment.
 
Finally, why did you decide to create the Social Value Files?

I really believe that it’s not down to the government to legislate these changes but it’s up to all of us to take responsibility and do things differently. It’s not rocket science, but I want to inspire and inform as many people as possible so that they understand why creating social value is important and are able to do it themselves.

 
Sarah Stone founded Samtaler in 2017. She is a Social Value practitioner and works with large complex organisations to help them develop and deliver effective social value.
You can read more about Sarah here
About the Social Value Conversations

'Samtaler' is the Danish word for 'conversation'  and one of our favourite things to do is to talk to,  learn from, and be inspired by, people who are doing something interesting or innovative in the world of social value and community benefit. 

Every month we share one of our conversations, so that you can learn from them too.  We hope you enjoy them. 

You can also join in the conversation on social media #socialvaluefiles.  Let us know if there's anyone you'd particularly like us to talk to and if you've missed previous interviews you can find them on our
blog.
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