While data and insights are crucially important for any organisation, working for a major financial institution makes this particularly so. And just like we must measure our financial performance and hold ourselves accountable to our shareholders for this – we are also accountable for the broader impact we have on society – to our shareholders, customers, employees and the communities in which we operate.
NAB contributed more than $67m last financial year to the community through our corporate responsibility programs and initiatives. With such a substantial investment, we have a responsibility to make sure we are delivering the biggest impact possible. This is why we are focused on measurement, which is not always simple, and is becoming increasingly sophisticated.
At one point in time counting participant numbers in a program might have been enough. But increasingly we want and need greater insights, driving many organisations, including NAB, to understand what difference participation in that program made to the lives of the individuals involved and to the community.
An example in microfinance
One of our largest and longest-running initiatives is our microfinance program, underpinned by a commitment of $130m in loan capital. Since 2003, we have been providing no-interest and low-interest loans to people on low incomes in partnership with Government, Good Shepherd Microfinance and hundreds of community organisations around Australia.
Since its inception, we have been counting how many loans we had written, with all the demographic and loan data we could handle and anecdotal stories to match. But more recently we have been able to quantify the social and economic benefits the microfinance programs deliver by partnering with The Centre for Social Impact to help us undertake Social Return on Investment (SROI) studies. Not only has this helped to show program funders (NAB executives and Government) that it is a good investment – but it has also given us a richness of understanding of what works and what doesn’t that the research is also informing our program operations and decisions.
A way to go yet
Measurement approaches need to match the type and scale of your program as sophisticated tools like SROIs are not always appropriate nor affordable. Like most, we are still learning and improving our approach, and we are also starting to turn our attention to how we measure things in a more consistent way to provide more comparative insights. It’s a journey…but it’s an extremely valuable one.
Rebecca Kotow is the Head of Social Impact and Community Investment at National Australia Bank. Rebecca is speaking on ‘Measuring & reporting on the impact of community programs’ at the Measuring & Managing Corporate Social Responsibility Conference in October. Book your place by September 25th to save $100!