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.
Today we're talking to Angela Halliday about how she became Sodexo UK&I's first ever Director of Social Impact, their approach to measurement and evaluation, and how you tell a coherent impact story in a large, complex, multinational, sector spanning organisation.
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Five minutes with…Angela Halliday, Director of Social Impact at Sodexo UK&I
What do you do?
Sodexo is a global organisation offering quality of life services including catering, facilities management, employee benefits and personal and home services. Working alongside our CEOs, I’m responsible for ensuring we embed our values and purpose across the business and that our mission translates into reality and genuine social impact.
What does ‘social value’ mean to Sodexo?
Sodexo was born with a social purpose. We were founded in the 60s as a family-owned business long before anyone else was talking about ESG, CSR or social value. It’s always been our mission to improve quality life services for our colleagues and communities and our whole philosophy is built on going beyond service delivery to consider the wider socio-economic benefits of what we do. It’s about that lasting legacy. What we are doing that will ultimately benefit our people, places, partners and the planet?
Sodexo is a huge global organisation offering lots of different services. Where do you start?
Sodexo has just under 40,000 employees in the UK & Ireland and 420,000 worldwide. It’s a really complex organisation functionally and when I first started, I thought I’d never be able to join the dots. When you ask a couple of questions: What are you doing? Why are you doing it? you start to see the synergies across the different business sectors.
The trick is to pull these together and take a less is more approach. Do less things but do them better so we have more of an impact, because impact is actually what we’re trying to achieve here. Social value is what we do, but social impact is the outcome of what we do. The question I am always asking people within the business is “so what?” If you are doing great stuff, then “so what? “What is the impact on people, places, partners and the planet?
What is the biggest challenge for Sodexo?
Because we’re such a big organisation we have lots of people delivering services but we also need to make sure we are giving these people the autonomy and the tools to drive things forward. We need to ask Who owns it? How can we enable these people and make them feel and be empowered? What processes or policies need to change to make that happen? What systems or new technologies do we need in order for them to thrive and do business in a good way?
It’s also really important that any corporate strategy translates at a grassroots level. What does it mean to our front-line employees and their families? Do they understand the difference they are making to the environment, society and to the local economy? Do they see the value in their personal contribution? Because if it doesn’t translate at a grassroots level then it isn’t really social value. I’d like to think that if you go to any of our sites across the country you can approach any member of staff and ask them what Sodexo does in terms of creating value and impact for communities, society and our planet and they will be able to tell you.
You work with the public sector a lot, is there a negative perception of you as a private sector organisation in some of sectors you work in?
There can be, yes, and it’s probably one of the biggest challenges. It doesn’t sit comfortably some people and they just see making a profit as greed, but of course we re-invest a proportion of our profits back into our business to deliver socially responsible activities.
Take our work in the justice system as an example. We know that ex-offenders and people who have been in touch with the criminal justice system can struggle to gain employment. As part of our commitment to improving quality life services we are committed to recruiting ex-offenders because we know that it has a positive impact; not just on the individual but on their families and their local communities and economies. As Sodexo is the 19th largest recruiter in the world, we can do this on a much bigger scale and have a much bigger impact. And as we also have a role in managing some prisons, it’s great to see people go full circle, as we take a whole system view to their success and wellbeing.
Of course, not all companies have the same moral compass and bad practices can cast a dark shadow over the whole sector.
Do you think ‘doing the right thing’ gives you a competitive advantage?
Yes, but only because we can evidence it. Lots of businesses talk about it, but we can actually show the social return on investment in terms of the tangible impact on communities, our people, our places and the planet and how that in turn has a direct, positive impact on the business.
Can you explain more about how you measure impact?
Firstly, we don’t just chase numbers. Reporting isn’t all about data. Doing stuff for the right reason is the most important way that any organisation can truly embed and demonstrate their social value commitments. The measurement and reporting then comes naturally.
The most valuable engaging way to report on social impact is through people’s stories. For instance, take an ex-offender that that we recently employed. Yes, we gave her a job but it comes back to that question – so what? What has that job done for that specific individual, her health, her family, her wider community and local economy. By bringing that story to life, you can evidence the personal impact of our commitment to recruiting ex-offenders.
ESG is a hot topic at the moment and lots of big organisations are recruiting teams to manage it, but that isn’t the approach at Sodexo, can you tell us more?
When I look at some of our competitors, they’ve got a team of people like me, whereas at Sodexo it’s just me focusing on this full-time. Some people may think this means Sodexo don’t take social value seriously but actually it’s the opposite. At Sodexo, social value is not a department – it’s in our DNA. It’s part of everyone’s role and responsibility across the business; we embed it operationally into everything we do. In my opinion, if you start bringing in a team; if you start to commoditise social value or ESG or whatever you may call it, then you are not doing it right.
This article first appeared as part of the Social Value Files, sign up here to keep up to date.