Measuring Social Change from Ghana to the USA

I've been thinking recently about the ways in which we measure impact in the social sector -- in big numbers, hopefully with many 0’s after them -- and how to rethink those scales to allow for more meaningful measurements.


When we do little projects, for ourselves or in the edges of life -- quietly mentoring a friend’s child or stopping to help someone with a map and directions, we rarely measure our impact in numbers or “imprints.” Instead, we work toward personal connections and palpable diagnostics of societal change, and we get deep satisfaction when we witness the positive impact we have on individuals. What gets lost in the drive for measurement purely in numbers (which often equates to a headlong sprint toward scale) is this connection to meaningful change at the individual level.


I recently worked on a project with in Ghana, developing a brand strategy for the sanitation company Clean Team. Asantewa, the project manager in Kumasi, Ghana, is an amazing leader, and spoke candidly to us about her vision of success for the budding enterprise. In Ghana, before the government mandated the use of public toilets, the norm was “bucket latrines.” These involved a makeshift bucket for a toilet, cleaned out by groups of people called “night soil collectors.” So stigmatized was this class of workers, they moved solely in the dead of night, giving them their name. Asantewa acknowledged that one difficult part of her job with Clean Team was attracting good Waste Collectors -- workers who collect full waste containers from Clean Team customer homes and replace them with new, empty ones. And she confirmed that part of this difficulty probably sprung from the vestigial stigma of the night soil collectors from years before. For her, she said, Clean Team would be a success when it had so embedded itself in society that waste collecting was no longer a shameful job, but had become a mainstream and even a desirable one. When she had people knocking at her door asking for those jobs, she would know she had made a real difference in Ghanaian society.


I was thoroughly impressed with this insightful way of thinking about impact. There were no arbitrary numerical milestones to hit here -- just a bold goal about the impact that a small sanitation company could have on a country’s belief systems, and an empowering path to get there little by little. I applaud her thinking, and invite others to consider personally meaningful ways to measure their own impact -- in their lives, in their field, and in their society.