Building social fabric through ESG

Creating Communities managing director on ESG and social investment.

Building social fabric through ESG

Speaking with some of the country’s leading super fund investors and executives, the message from Creating Communities managing director Donna Shepherd was a simple one – our investments, projects and organisations will faulter if we don’t invest in ways that build social fabric and antifragility in communities.  

Last week, Donna addressed the Funds Executive Association National Conference, challenging those in the room to think about their footprint in the contexts in which they work and invest in.  

In times of great change such as today, Donna spoke about it being possible to do more than just hold tight and hope to get out the other end relatively unscathed.  

“More than ever before, we have the power to build communities and organisations that not only survive change but thrive in the process by investing in approaches that build social fabric and strengthen communities.” 

Donna Shepherd

Donna has worked in some of the world’s toughest places leading Creating Communities, the World Vision International Board as Chair. From famine in Africa to community’s impacted by generational disadvantage in some of Australia’s most remote areas she has fostered approaches that build positive outcomes in the midst of change and chaos.  

“It’s important to take a systems view. To understand the broader context, the places where things are and are not working.” 

“We find out most about ourselves and the success of our agendas in the juxtapositions, in the areas of upheaval, in the dried-up places, the kids not getting through school, the families not able to put food on the table,” Donna said.  

“In our organisations, it’s the departments where culture statistics are the lowest, it’s the mistakes on our project, the failures, the spats between groups that are the windows into our vulnerabilities.  

“All of these things help us to see the world more clearly, they show us where systems are breaking.”  

Donna says that as complexity increases risks, both complex and binary are harder to anticipate.  

“To reduce our vulnerability to risk we need to learn from the most vulnerable parts of the system. It is there where we learn more about the emerging conditions and intersecting threats. These places are also where we discover the approaches necessary for the work of the future. Stepping into risk has been essential in equipping us for the future.” 

Creating Communities has spent the last 30 years working on the ‘S’ in ESG. When well-conceived and positioned, the ‘S’ can help us navigate pathways through the complexity, understanding our weakest points and our greatest opportunities.  

While ESG can help ensure investments are sustainable and ethical, there is still a lot to do as ESG needs to continue to mature, especially in the Social realm. 

ESG risks being a tick-the-box exercise, or green-washing if not backed by systems approaches that ensure the broader impacts of projects are addressed.  

Our research shows; 

  • That ESG social criteria are still largely internally focused.  
  • Impacts to communities are often not well mitigated. 
  • Opportunities to realise sustainable benefits to communities are being squandered through poor targeting of social investments.  
  • Sovereign risk ESG ratings, allocate as little as 11% to communities.  

Unfortunately, the majority of social investment is still not strategic or being directed to where it is needed. Which is why we have made it our mission to put the “S” back in ESG through a focus on sound social investment and development practice aimed at building social fabric.  

We think it’s important that we all focus on the ‘S’, not just because of principles around justice and equity, but because if we don’t we will limit our collective progress. 

All the work we do at Creating Communities is built on trust. It’s about listening, co-designed strategies, common agenda’s, collaborative action and collective measurement. Together, social fabric and antifragility is built resulting in more resilient communities.  

In our next chapter, we’re working to change the way the ‘S’ in ESG is done.

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