SIM TIG Week: Evaluating the Return on Investment of Social Inclusion by Ben Fowler and Erin Markel

Hi, we are Ben Fowler and Erin Markel, CEO and Chief Growth Officer respectively at MarketShare Associates (MSA), a global social impact consulting company. There is growing recognition of the private sector’s enormous potential to create (as well as to threaten) social impact.  However, a range of issues have traditionally challenged the ability of those actors to effectively capture the impact that they are creating. With funding from the US government and led by DAI, we at MSA have been undertaking research to better understand how the private sector measures social inclusion and its return on investment (ROI). This began by developing a framework for the research. We then reviewed close to 100 publicly available reports, studies, and articles, as well as around 80 case studies, and conducted interviews with a range of experts that we summarized in a short brief.

Lessons Learned

  1. The private sector is diverse. When diving into the evidence, we found important differences in what matters for private investors, public companies, and private firms in measuring social inclusion.  The aspects of social inclusion that are more commonly measured are presented in the table below.
Markel, Erin and Friederike Strub (MarketShare Associates).  How the Private Sector Measures Social Inclusion and its Return on Investment: A Framework to Inform Future Research. Washington: United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Feed the Future Market Systems and Partnerships (MSP), 2021. 

The following graphic outlines what types of social inclusion results each of these groups commonly measure.

Markel, Erin and Friederike Strub (MarketShare Associates).  How the Private Sector Measures Social Inclusion and its Return on Investment: A Framework to Inform Future Research. Washington: United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Feed the Future Market Systems and Partnerships (MSP), 2021. 

2. It is unrealistic to expect a single, standardized, universal framework and/or set of metrics to emerge for measuring social inclusion that is relevant for all stakeholders. Different interests, reporting requirements and audiences shape what’s measured among the stakeholders. Accordingly, there is a proliferation of frameworks and metrics that speak to and are used by these different groups.  Three key social inclusion strategies have a strong existing evidence base informing the ROI in developing country contexts: safety and gender-based violence prevention, workplace culture and benefits, and talent. Conversely, there were three significant gaps. These included the strategies of leadership, supply chain diversity and targeting female consumers. These are surprising given that often the private sector is specifically seeking to enhance its impact on social inclusion via working with its suppliers and customers.

To build on these findings, we are developing a set of guidance materials on the key social inclusion strategies and practices applied in the developing world as well as an interactive tool on how to measure the financial outcomes of social inclusion for businesses.

Rad Resources


This week, AEA365 is hosting Social Impact Measurement Week with our colleagues in the Social Impact Measurement Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to AEA365 come from our SIM TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this AEA365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the AEA365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an AEA365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to AEA365@eval.org. AEA365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.e.

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