A panel discussion about the hype surrounding Social Entrepreneurship and the opportunities it presents took place yesterday evening and was attended by over a hundred students. The panelists were Prof Albert Teo, Prof Wong Poh Kam, Dr Tan Lai Yong, and moderated by Ms Laina Greene. There has been a lot of hype in Singapore about social entrepreneurship, and many are still confused about definitions and which organization qualifies as what. Meanwhile, NUS professors have diligently been offering classes about social entrepreneurship and there is growing interest to learn more about social entrepreneurship on campus. The discussion sought to bring students interested in this field together with these various professors to gain valuable insights into why they are passionate about social entrepreneurship, why and what they teach in their courses and a few lessons they feel students wanting to explore this field must truly understand. This discussion was a good continuation to last week’s talk about empathy and human centric design by Acumen+Singapore and Ashoka. It was a fruitful evening and the students in audience all took away valuable insights..
The event was held in Melbourne on the 17th -18th December 2015. Organized by the Swinburne’s Asia Centre for Social Investment and Philanthropy, Centre for Social Impact, the event saw leading academics come together for a fruitful 2-day session.
Dr. Weina Zhang, Research Director of ACSEP, shared with other regional research centres on the research and education initiatives and programmers conducted in ACSEP. She also highlighted that there is an annual International Symposium on Social Entrepreneurship to be held by ACSEP and encouraged all academics to submit their latest research on the field.
The event was attended by leading academics of the field, which includes: Mark Sidel, John Fitzgerald, Noshir Dadrawala, Wendy Scaife, Sudarshan Ramaswamy, Zhang Weina, Naoto Yamauchi, Fang Changchun, Shen Hui, Cheng Gang, Tao Ze, Deng Guosheng, Anthony Spires, Mei-fen Kuo, Tony Liao, Tracy Lee, Holly Chang and Michael Liffman.
The first working paper in the Philanthropy in Asia series, titled Philanthropy on the Road to Nationhood in Singapore, was launched on 16th December 2015 at the Central Public Library.
The event saw over 45 attendees comprising of academics, philanthropy groups and members of the public. It was a fruitful session where the authors Roshini Prakash and Pauline Tan shared on their key findings. During their sharing, the audience was taken on a journey of over 70 years of philanthropy in Singapore. Among the anecdotes of notable philanthropists and their generous spirit of giving, heart-warming stories that were also shared involved many Singaporeans who gave during a time when they had little. Dance hostess performing for fund raising nights for the building fund of Nanyang University while prisoners cooking for the 16,000 people displaced during the Bukit Ho Swee fire were among the many stories that highlighted the ‘kampong-spirit’ of Singaporeans.
It was a fruitful event that saw many attendees staying back after the presentation to engage the authors with more questions and personal sharing. We thank the authors for their insightful presentation and for their hard work.
The Chairman of the Advisory Board of ACSEP, the esteemed Mr Keith Chua has been featured in an interview documented in the Coutts Million Dollar Donors Report.
Mr Keith Chua is a fervent philanthropist and a strong supporter of ACSEP’s research and education efforts to further social entrepreneurship and philanthropy in Asia.
In this interview, Mr Keith Chua talks about his philanthropic work, his motivations and, on a more personal note, how he is carrying on his great-grandmother’s work, spanning over the past 100 years, through the Mrs Lee Choon Guan Trust Fund which is named after her.
You may read the full interview here.
Measuring social impact is often a difficult task and attracts much debate because there is no one size fits all solution that could be applied across all social enterprises. Despite the difficulty, social impact assessment is not only necessary but critical.
Understanding the importance of social impact assessment (SIA), ACSEP has been invited by the Thai Social Enterprise Office (TSEO) to conduct a 3-day workshop from 26 – 28 Nov. Various stakeholders of the Thai SE sector attended the workshop: such as the social entrepreneurs themselves, impact investors, researchers and policy makers.
It was a fruitful three days as Prof Lam Swee Sum and Dr Weina Zhang shared on the latest developments of SIA tools around the world and worked with participants in applying the SIA frameworks to their work.
We thank TSEO for collaboration and look forward to future collaboration and partnership opportunities.
Capacity-building for Social Enterprises: Social Impact Analysis & Strategy
Prof Dr Barbara Scheck is the visiting fellow at Asia Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy (ACSEP) at NUS Business School from September to October 2015. She is an Assistant Professor for Social Investment at the University of Hamburg since 2012. The workshop was conducted on 14th October 2015 where 11 participants spent a fruitful morning discussing the tools available for social impact analysis and strategy formulation.
Indeed, achieving social impact is the very “reason for being” of social enterprises. Delineating how such social impact can be achieved is through the modelling of the so-called “theory of change”. At its core, a theory of change expresses an initiative or program logic. It defines long-term objectives and then maps these backward to identify necessary resources and activities. During the workshop, participants were given a chance to apply these frameworks to their social entreprise under the guidance of Prof Dr Barbara Scheck and are given feedback on how to improve their social impact analysis and strategy.
Measuring & Improving the Impact of Social Enterprises
ACSEP was privileged to have Prof Paul Brest from Stanford Law School, former President of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, to conduct a Executive Programme on the 25th to 27th August 2015. The event kicked off with an introductory lecture on strategic philanthropy and its discontents. The workshop then proceeded to touch on topics of strategy and impact investing while participants and Prof Paul Brest shared light hearted moments over lunch.
The 18 participants from various government agencies, foundations, corporates and grant makers, from Malaysia and Singapore, thoroughly enjoyed the time spent learning and interacting with Prof Paul Brest. The intensive programme focused on designing, implementing, and evaluating strategies for the delivery of social goods and services through non-profit organizations (NGOs) and for-profit enterprises (impact investees). To fully benefit from the programme, the participants were given pre-requisite readings comprising book chapters and case studies before the programme.
The inaugural International Symposium on Social Entrepreneurship 2015 saw the gathering of over a hundred academics, practitioners and researchers as they discussed fervently on the challenges and promises ahead for the social entrepreneurship landscape in Asia and the world.
“Currently, there is no one proven model for social impact measurement. The conversation to find better ways to measure and create collective impact requires active participation, reflection, coordination and action. Only then, would we truly be able to deliver actual value to the social sector.”
A reflection paper by Zhao Binru Bryan, as partial fulfillment of a BBA (Honours) module, “Measuring Success in Philanthropy and Impact Investing”.
This paper seeks to discuss whether managers in the field of the public sector or nonprofit organizations (NPOs) should, or should not use performance measurement for performance management. According to Hatry (2014), performance measurement refers to the regular collection of output and/or outcome data throughout the year for the NPO’s programs and services. Performance managers would then use these performance data to help them make decisions that continually improve their services to their customers. In this paper, the concept of philanthropy is extended to ‘entrepreneurial philanthropy’, comprising of ‘venture philanthropy’ as well as ‘impact first impact investing’ (John, Tan and Ito, 2013). Financial and human capital are deployed to primarily achieve social impact and outcomes.
The adage that “you can’t manage what you can’t measure” appears to be unequivocal. Without performance measurement, managers would not be able to make decisions pertaining to evaluation, control and budgeting (Behn, 2004). Both Brest (2003) and Gates (2013) emphasize the importance of measurement of progress and outcomes in NPO programs. Performance measurement thus serves as a feedback loop to ascertain if the program is on track or not, and if necessary corrections should be made. Moreover, Brest and Born (2013) define the achievement of social impact as an increase in the quantity or quality of the enterprise’s social outcomes beyond what would otherwise have occurred. Determining the social impact that is solely attributable to the program through quantitative or qualitative indicators may help NPOs determine the validity of its theory of change. For instance, the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was able to prove that the eligibility for merit-based scholarships led to better academic grades amongst students, with improved student and teacher attendance (Brest and Krieger, 2010). Measurement through randomized controlled studies proved that the intervention works. This serves as useful information for the program managers to continue with and make further improvements to the program. Even if the results had proven negative, or inconclusive, they still serve as useful information for subsequent studies to become more targeted.
Based on the theoretical and empirical evidence presented, measurement that is tied to outputs and outcomes is essential for performance managers to make objective and informed decisions. However, measurement is not an end in itself and being able to measure performance does not necessarily equate to the ability to manage performance.
“Not everything that counts can be counted and not everything that can be counted counts”.
The first half of this statement posits that it may sometimes be impossible to obtain quantitative data for performance management. Brest (2003) acknowledges this through the example of a performing arts organization, which should place emphasis on the quality of its production as well as the size of the audience. While the size of the audience is a quantitative indicator that is comparable and objective, this is difficult to achieve for the quality of production. It could instead, be assessed by critics. However, Brest also argues that data such as quality of production, though subjective, may be quantified for comparative purposes. Brest notes, however, that this should be done with the program’s goals and outcome in mind. This clearly shows that measurement should be carried out merely as a tool to assess outcomes and impact. Barkhorn, Huttner and Blau (2013) further debunk the validity of the first half of the statement. Through designing an Advocacy Assessment Framework, they were able to quantify and compare advocacy efforts of different NPOs. This quantitative estimator for the likelihood of success pushes the boundaries of evaluating advocacy, traditionally thought to be a risky area of business.
The second half of the statement considers the circumstances where the quantification of outputs does not necessarily guarantee the achievement of the intended outcomes. The Acumen Fund had used an output metric measuring the sales and distribution of bed nets as a proxy to measure the outcome of malaria prevention (Ebrahim and Rangan, 2011). However, not considering if the bed nets were even used represents an information gap to establish causation and impact. This presents a limitation in performance measurement for management of outcomes. However, Trelstad (2008) explains that understanding outcomes and demonstrating the counter-factual is both complicated and costly. He recommends measurement by outputs and using literature reviews to justify the output’s link to impacts. While this may circumvent the problem of measuring outputs to outcomes, it reveals another argument against measurement, in that it may be costly and not produce useful results.
“Measurement is expensive and its results are often ignored”.
Brest (2003) recognizes that data collection becomes more difficult and expensive when trying to measure intermediate and ultimate outcomes. Often, NPOs have limited time, money and lack the administrative expertise to track social outcome (Tuan, 2008). Although the cost of measurement may sometimes be borne by foundations and funders, this process still incurs a huge time cost for the NPOs. In addition, the measurement results may sometimes be ignored. Tuan (2008) highlights REDF primary funder’s decision to discontinue using SROI metrics, as the SROI results had no impact on any investment decisions in the REDF portfolio. Likewise, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation had also decided to exit its Nonprofit Marketplace Initiative after some review. A report “Money for Good” from Hope Consulting revealed that the American donors’ demand for information to identify top-performing nonprofits was much lower than expected. Only 3% of Americans would compare between NPOs when making a gift. However, Harty (2014) presents an alternative viewpoint. He posits that advances in technology had led to lower costs of information and more timely results. Evidence-based decisions and program evaluations have also led to a widespread increase in demand for reliable evidence in the NPO sector. The examples of REDF and Hewlett Foundation reveal that measurement results may sometimes be ignored. However, one must note that the SROI framework was intended to measure the returns to society as a whole, and not to track individual program outcomes. Likewise, the Nonprofit Marketplace Initiative also served to improve the information availability for the whole American population. In fact, 85% of the population cares about performance of the NPOs, which are measured by indicators (Hope Consulting, 2014). As such, it is not justified to say that results are often ignored.
“The more any quantitative social indicator is used for decision making, the more it will be subject to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor”.
Fitzgerald (2013) points out that emphasizing social impact reporting may result in NPOs being too concerned with securing funding from donors and funding agencies. There is also a possibility that focusing too much on measurement may lead NPOs to take on activities that are only measured by quantitative metrics (Brest, 2008). This might lead to perverse incentives for creaming and cherry picking. The Oklahoma Milestone Payment System, an outcome-based payment system, created incentives for managers to screen out difficult customers (O’Brien and Cook, 2005). However, such creaming practices may be countered through higher payment levels for higher support needs (O’Brien and Revell, 2005). While quantitative social indicators may lead to unintended consequences, social impact can also be measured by qualitative metrics. These qualitative metrics can serve as a check and balance on the programs, and be considered in tandem with quantitative results for performance measurement.
The above discussion leads to a viewpoint that managers in the field of NPOs should use performance measurement for performance management. Empirical evidence also suggests that pre-investment venture capital practices do matter for the expected performance of social investment funds (Lam, Leong and Lek, 2010). With that being said, it is imperative to keep in mind that the process of measurement is not an end in itself. Devoting too many resources to measurement may result in managers neglecting the social impact and outcomes of the programs. Often, the customers and beneficiaries are overlooked, and yet they are the results that provide leading indicators for long-term program effectiveness (Twersky, Buchanan and Threlfall, 2013). As such, a strong engagement with the partners and beneficiaries is crucial to obtain high quality information and data. Currently, there is no one proven model for social impact measurement. The conversation to find better ways to measure and create collective impact requires active participation, reflection, coordination and action. Only then, would we truly be able to deliver actual value to the social sector.
Barkhorn, I., Huttner, N., & Blau, J. (2013). Assessing Advocacy. Stanford Social Innovation Review, 1-8.
Behn, B. (2004). Why Measure Performance. Bob Behn’s Public Management Report, 1(11), 1-2.
Brest, P. (2008, 11 20). Paul Brest, President, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation: Smart Philanthropy in Tough Times. (P. N. Digest, Interviewer)
Brest, P., & Born, K. (2013, 8 14). Stanford Social Innovation Review. Retrieved 3 15, 2015, from Unpacking the Impact in Impact Investing: http://www.ssireview.org/articles/entry/unpacking_the_impact_in_impact_investing
Brest, P., & Krieger, L. H. (2010). Problem Solving, Decision Making, and Professional Judgment. Interpreting Statistical Results and Evaluating Policy Interventions, 185-206.
Brest, P. (2003). Update on the Hewlett Foundation’s Approach to Philanthropy: The Importance of Strategy. William and Flora Hewlett Foundation 2003 Annual Report.
Ebrahim, A. S., & Rangan, V. K. (2009). Acumen Fund: Measurement in Venture Philanthropy (B). Harvard Business Case.
Fitzgerald, J. (2013). “Just Do It” – Making and Measuring Social Impact. Asia-Pacific Centre for Social Investment and Philanthropy, 1-9.
Gates, B. (2013, 1 25). The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 3 15, 2015, from Bill Gates: My Plan to Fix The World’s Biggest Problems: http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887323539804578261780648285770
Hatry, H. P. (2014). Transforming Performance Measurement for the 21st Century. The Urban Institute, 1-91.
Hope Consulting. (2010). Money for Good: The US Market for Impact Investments and Charitable Gifts from Individual Donors and Investors. 1-107.
John, R., Tan, P., & Ito, K. (2013). Innovation in Asian Philanthropy: Entrepreneurial Social Finance in Asia. Singapore: The Asia Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy (ACSEP) in National University of Singapore.
Lam, S. S., Leong, S. M., & Lek , S. M. (2010). Venture Capital Practices: Do They Matter for the Expected Performance of Social Investment Funds? ACSEP Research Working Paper Series No. 14/01, 1-35.
O’Brien, D., & Cook, B. (2005). Oklahoma Milestone Payment System. 1-18.
O’Brien, D., & Revell, G. (2005). The Milestone Payment System: Results based funding in vocational rehabilitation. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation, 101-114.
Trelstad, B. (2008). Simple Measures for Social Enterprise. Innovations: Technology, Governance, Globalization, 3(3), 105-118.
Tuan, M. T. (2008). Measuring and/or Estimating Social Value Creation: Insights into Eight Integrated Cost Approaches. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Impact Planning and Improvement, 1-45.
Twersky, F., Buchanan, P., & Threlfall, V. (2013). Listening to Those Who Matter Most, the Beneficiaries. Stanford Social Innovation Review, 1-7.
“[W]hile it remains incomplete in its current form, stakeholder theory is undeniably instrumental in steering the path for businesses in their goal for value creation, be it for shareholder or societal good.”
A reflection paper by Tan Chun Hsien Shawn, as partial fulfillment of a BBA (Honours) module, “Measuring Success in Philanthropy and Impact Investing”.
For decades, the maximisation of shareholder wealth has been the dominant objective of capitalists and corporations (Lazonick & O’Sullivan, 2000). This objective has been an inextricable component of our laws in modern society, the management practices that govern businesses, and even forms the basis of rational economic theory (Saint & Tripathi, 2006). More recently, this view has been challenged with the growing popularity of stakeholder theory. This paper thus seeks to introduce and identify the conflict between the two concepts, to explain how stakeholder theory has been crucial in causing the gradual transition away from shareholder value theory toward a new equilibrium.
Shareholder Value Theory
Shareholder value theory proposes that the primary duty of management is to maximise shareholder returns (Smith, 2003). The roots of this view can be traced back to Adam Smith and the central tenets within his book The Wealth of Nations (Pfarrer, 2010). The theory was framed in its current form by Milton Friedman, who argued that the only social responsibility of businesses was to increase its profits (Stout, 2012). This thought was further reinforced by a paper by Michael Jensen and William Meckling, who described the firm as a legal fiction in which shareholders were principals and managers were their agents (Jensen & Meckling, 1976), and managers who pursued goals other than maximising the wealth of shareholders were reducing social good by imposing agency costs. Such academic backing led shareholder primacy to achieve dominance by the end of the millennium.
However, in the wake of global scandals and crises, the premises of the shareholder-oriented perspective have been increasingly questioned (Smith, 2003). In particular, Enron, exemplary in its corporate governance for maximising shareholder value by fixating on its stock price, inadvertently collapsed due to bad business decisions and accounting fraud (Stout, 2012). A recent article by Forbes also documents the denouncement of shareholder value maximisation by a number of prominent CEOs and top management (Denning, 2015), citing problems such as a focus on short-term returns, a diversion of resources away from innovation, and causing economic stagnation and inequality. It is against the backdrop of the gradually receding prominence of shareholder value theory that stakeholder theory can be discussed.
In comparison with shareholder value theory, stakeholder theory has a far shorter history. The term stakeholder was first used within an internal memorandum at Stanford Research Institute in 1963. While it received initial flak by Igor Ansoff, who viewed stakeholders as a secondary constraint on the main objective of the firm, the stakeholder concept surfaced in the 1970s in several instances of strategic planning literature (Freeman, Harrison, Wicks, Parmar, & Colle, 2010), with the popularisation of the concept ascribed to Richard Edward Freeman in 1984. Since then, the theory has risen in prominence since 1995 (Laplume, Sonpar, & Litz, 2008), and currently represents a shift in perspective within the on-going debate on corporate purpose.
The stakeholder of an organisation can be defined as a group or individual who can affect or is affected by the achievement of organisational objectives (Freeman, 1984). As such, stakeholder theory suggests that the purpose of the corporation should take into consideration all who have an interest in an organisation’s activity (Greenwood, 2008), including shareholders, customers, employees, and the general public (Fontaine, Haarman, & Schmid, 2006). Thus, the objective of management should be to balance the competing interests of these stakeholders (Sternberg, 1996). As such, the theory is seen as a holistic approach to corporate purpose and provides strategic depth to the management of interests through three different approaches: descriptive (explaining corporate behaviour), instrumental (finding links between stakeholder strategies and performance), and normative (interpreting organisational function from a moral standpoint) (Donaldson & Preston, 1995). These theoretical approaches frame the issue on stakeholder interests for further analysis.
While once dominant, shareholder value theory is now contested by the premises of the stakeholder approach. It is in this light that both can now be compared, assessing the factors for change.
Many arguments have been put forth by proponents of stakeholder theory, countering implications of shareholder value theory. One competitive analysis revealed that companies focusing on stakeholders outperformed others even during times when the focus was on shareholder wealth (Pfeffer, 2009), suggesting practical effectiveness of the theory. Furthermore, as the range of performance measurement tools increases, there is reduced need to rely solely on financial measures as well.
In assessing the arguments for shareholder theory, Lynn Stout pointed out in her book that despite the pervasive extent of shareholder value ideology, it remains a managerial choice, rather than a legal obligation or practical necessity (Stout, 2012). Thus, with the exception of self-enrichment, there is much discretion provided by the law with respect to other corporate goals, such as employee protection and serving the community. These goals can and should be pursued by management.
Indeed, stakeholder theory offers a more holistic approach that includes more parties than shareholder theory. Yet it has its detractors as well. According to economist Michael C. Jensen, stakeholder theory should not be considered a valid competing theory since it does not provide a complete specification of the corporate objective function (Jensen, 2001). Unlike the clarity provided by the single objective of shareholder value theory, stakeholder theory directs managers towards many objectives, creating confusion, conflict, inefficiency, and competitive failure for the organisation (Jensen, 2001). Other authors have concurred with this view, stating that accountability to all stakeholders is not only unworkable, but also so diffuse that the accountability created is non-existent (Sternberg, 1996).
A final argument against stakeholder theory is that it undermines fundamental features of society (Sternberg, 1996). For one, it denies owners the right to dictate the use of their assets, stipulating that assets should be used for the benefit of all stakeholders. Due also to this feature and the added entrustment of assets by owners to managers, agent-principal relationships are compromised as well.
Despite the fervent propositions from both sides, the issue of whether the debate has real implications is a question in itself. A survey conducted in 2005 by the University of Melbourne revealed that ideological acceptance may not transit into practical managerial behaviour. Findings from the study showed that even though shareholder primacy had clout among managers, the proposition that directors will pursue shareholder’s interests at the expense of other stakeholders is illegitimate (Anderson, Jones, Marshall, Mitchell, & Ramsay, 2005). While shareholders continue to be seen as the most important of stakeholders, findings revealed that directors prioritise other stakeholders, such as employees, and their interests as well.
Notwithstanding this phenomenon, it is clear that the global business community is in transition to a new ideological consensus. Both the shareholder value theory and the stakeholder theory are theories of value creation, but with different prescriptions to that end. In evaluation, one of the strongest arguments for stakeholder theory is that taking additional stakeholders into account to some extent can be more financially beneficial for the firm in today’s economic landscape (Pfarrer, 2010), perhaps even more so than in shareholder theory. Although contentions remain that stakeholder theory prioritises non-financial market stakeholders at the expense of the firm, empirical observations through competitive analyses of profitable companies in recent years prove this view to be misconstrued (Pfeffer, 2009). Thus, there seems to be a shift not only in ideology, but also in successful managerial business practices, away from the notion of shareholder value maximisation.
That being said, stakeholder theory as it is forms an incomplete approach on both the firm’s corporate purpose and the measurement of its objectives. Thus, more recent theories on both sides of the argument have attempted to synthesize these two goals. For one, enlightened shareholder value theory proposes that companies should pursue the goal of shareholder wealth maximisation with a long-run orientation, seeking sustainable profits by paying attention to relevant stakeholder interests (Millon, 2010). Enlightened stakeholder theory, on the other hand, uses the premises of stakeholder theory, but uses the maximisation of the long-term value of the firm as a criterion for stakeholder prioritisation (Pichet, 2008). We can observe here that there is an apparent convergence from the initially opposing theories, which points to a potential equilibrium at some point between the two theories.
In conclusion, despite the long historical roots of shareholder value theory, we see that stakeholder theory has gradually yet fundamentally changed the perspective of owners, managers, and society. Thus, while it remains incomplete in its current form, stakeholder theory is undeniably instrumental in steering the path for businesses in their goal for value creation, be it for shareholder or societal good.
 E.g. Southwest Airlines, which never had layoffs despite an industry shutdown after the September 11 attacks.
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