Anthem Blog

Insights from the Anthem Awards Academy: Shaping Social Impact in 2023

The Anthem judging academy shares views on the state of social impact work in 2023 and beyond. Key insights and perspectives from impact leaders.

Advocacy work looks vastly different than it did a few decades ago, even a few years ago. Emerging technologies and social networks have been cemented as tools to amplify movements, and create equitable solutions. Purpose has taken a greater foothold on both the private and public sector. Organizers and purpose-driven professionals are approaching society’s most pressing social issues through an intersectional and interconnected lens, to push the needle of progress further. At a critical time in history from a humanitarian and environmental lens, organizations and companies alike are redefining what progressive change looks like in 2023. 

We’ve also noticed these shifts at the Anthem Awards –from intersectional climate solutions to tech products with greater accessibility. Social impact work is undergoing a promising transformation. The themes today will shape the trajectory of social movements in the next coming years. 

To better inspire the initiatives our community is making, we’ve surveyed a diverse selection of Anthem Academy members to explore the themes shaping social impact work in 2023 and beyond. In part one of this series, learn from a broad range of renowned impact leaders who are forging change in their industries—from policy to advertising, fundraising to grassroots organizations, agriculture to film production and more. 

Themes and Predictions:

Themes: Defining Impact Work in 2023

Insight 1: It’s vital to expand our understanding of “equity” beyond Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, to include disability justice and accessibility.

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Purvi Shah, Founder & CEO, Kids & Art Foundation

“Accessibility and Equity are leading the way. COVID shed light on disparities and I do not mean this with a DEI lens, I’m talking about accessibility of resources, equitable grant making, giving unrestricted funds for capacity building, and trusting that the nonprofits will use the funds where they need them most to serve their constituents.”

Amy Dacey, Executive Director, Sine Institute of Policy and Politics

“Equity is definitely a main theme – whether you are doing sustainability, health, education, hunger.  All roads in this incredible work lead to equity and making sure people experience a more equitable future.”

Marcie Roth, CEO, World Institute on Disability

“Centering disability accessibility, justice, rights, equity and inclusion (Not just DEI).”

Insight 2: Intersectionality and connectivity are more widely used as frameworks to examine issue areas, leading to the development of more accurate solutions.

Amy Merrill, President, Eyes Open

“Macro meets micro: increasingly we are recognizing the interconnectedness of things, that climate justice is racial justice is economic justice and so on. And that we must solve climate in order to survive, but to solve climate change we must make sure people are supported in the immediate future, and we must find ways to come together across party lines on solutions, and so on.”

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Zach Weismann, Founder & CEO, The Impactful

“Connectivity. But not in the technological sense. From an issues perspective, we have seen both expected and totally unexpected connections between the issues we need to address from a social impact perspective. The COVID pandemic was, unfortunately, a perfect example of this – the intersection of climate, public health, public policy all merging together and quickly. And most would argue we didn’t exactly heed the call. As the climate crisis continues to worsen, the inter-sectionalism of these issues is going to continue to increase, and increase rapidly. Therefore, the ability to partner, adapt, adopt, and collaborate is incredibly necessary.”

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Guyang Chen-Ware, Creative Director, Futerra

“I see problems and solutions are being tackled and seen from a more holistic and interconnected point of view. Everything is related, from climate change, biodiversity to race, gender, health, and economic mobility. Creating new narratives and storytelling are shaping the cultural change and a tipping point we need to shift public consciousness and behavior around issues such as climate change.”

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Lachi, Touring Performer, Entrepreneur, Award-winning Community Leader, RAMPD (Recording Artists and Music Professionals with Disabilities)

“Some of the greatest change, growth and community impact happening now is due to a rise in cross-movement efforts. This allows for long haul, multi-platform social campaigns accessible to larger communities. No one person lives a single-issue life. We exist in multiple identities that we relate to at any given time, and intentional collaborations of different movements on larger-scale issues is creating some deep impact.”

Insight 3: This year has seen greater collaboration between grassroots and corporate spaces, with this trend expected to continue.

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Elliot Kotek, Founder, Nation of Artists

“I see more brands realize that collaboration with nonprofits brings greater accountability and longevity to their ‘for-good’ events and campaigns. It used to be enough for companies to ‘tell’ the world that they were doing good, then it became necessary for companies to ‘show’ that to the world; now, there’s a massive mandate for companies to be able to ‘prove’ that what they’re doing is meaningful.”

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Robin Wilson, CEO, Clean Design Home

“It is my belief that grassroots organizations will engage at the corporate level in order to receive funding and the corporations will engage more to ensure that the values/missions are aligned with groups that receive foundation gifts.”

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Norman Chen, Chief Executive Officer, The Asian American Foundation

“One theme that we are seeing over and over again is the importance of community driven, locally-led approaches. There’s no one stop shop for impact, so we have to listen to the community leaders who are on the ground and have been working tirelessly on the front lines and are engaging with the community every day. 

Local leaders and community based organizations are leading our space today. At TAAF, our Anti-Hate National Network is a community of national, regional, and local organizations including City Partners that collaborates to leverage existing skills, expertise and community connections to strengthen infrastructure towards building a safer America. While cities are dealing with anti-hate, incidents may look different from city to city and solutions need to be tailored to the survivors and community impacted, so we need to trust organizations to do what is best for the people they serve.”

Predictions: the Future of  Impact Work

Prediction 1: New benchmarks of innovation that will prioritize greater decision making by communities who are on the frontlines of issues. 

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Rosalina Jowers, Director, Marketing & Communications, Participant

“So much impact work has relied on digital and social media as pathways for connection and amplification, leading to a saturated landscape of CSR and impact campaigns online. I believe there will be a shift back to grassroots and on the ground advocacy and a desire from consumers to see more impact in action.”

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Alex Amouyel, President and CEO, Newman’s Own Foundation

“There are some promising trends in the world of social impact that I hope we see more of over the next 5 years: more proximity, i.e., solutions that have been designed with, by, and for the most marginalized members of our communities; more decentralized and democratic decision-making; and more openness and transparency. As Edgar Villanueva (Decolonizing Wealth) and many others have explicated, social impact work, and especially philanthropy, remains a very top-down, often neo-colonialist endeavor, but true change will happen only if we include everyone, especially those who are closest to and most affected by the very problems we are trying to solve.”

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Vilas Dhar, President, Patrick J. McGovern Foundation

“Social impact work needs to center a new definition of innovation – not merely technological innovation, but also the critical social systems-level innovation that builds new social resilience and capacity. In the past, we have often defined problems such as climate change, education inequality, or global health crises from the perspective of those with abundant access to the resources, status, and connections to be easily heard in public discourse. In the context of AI, solutions to the sustainable development goals have primarily been led and developed in the Global North, despite their significance for Global Majority communities. 

In 2023, I expect this narrative to shift towards the communities at the frontlines of vulnerability and the unique ways in which they experience the major challenges of today. As we gain a better understanding of their needs, perspectives, and traditional wisdom, we can begin to co-design solutions that are rooted in their values and that advance a sense of shared welfare in a rapidly evolving global landscape.”

Prediction 2: Purpose-driven work and a focus on ESG will be integrated more deeply into how companies do business.

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Geraldine White, Chief Diversity Officer, Publicis Groupe  

“I believe that there will be further convergence of purpose-driven and product-driven work. Today’s best creatives, strategists and CMOs already know that everything they put into the world now makes a statement about their values as a brand, whether or not it’s overtly cause or purpose focused. Everything from where the work appears, to who is represented in the work (and who they are represented by) has an inherent impact on how it will be perceived and ultimately accepted or not by the consumer. To that end, every campaign – even a traditional brand campaign – should be thought through from the lens of social impact. 

Today’s consumers are more tuned in and perceptive than ever before, and they’re aligning with the brands that best fit their own values and personas. This is where brands and organizations have a shared accountability, and must partner to meet the demands of consumers. These behavioral and mindset shifts must be considered with great care today and far into the future as brands continue to seek out the best ways to connect with their customers in our increasingly culturally nuanced world.”

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Susan McPherson, Founder, CEO and Author, McPherson Strategies

“We’ve heard this before, but I fervently believe it is finally happening. ESG, sustainability and impact are now and will be further built deeply into the company’s business and distributed throughout every division of the organization. Partnerships, coalitions, coopetition, suppliers, investors and customers will play a greater role in the evolution of social impact as well. Government regulation in the EU and eventually in the U.S. will play a role in positively influencing corporate actions and business leaders will stay vocal about impact (regardless of politicians crying “anti-woke” messages.”

Chloe Barnes, SVP, Equity Investment, MAGNA

“Purpose-driven leadership will shift over the next five years, and it will soon become an expectation that organizations create a positive impact on society, the environment, their communities, and their employees, not just on their bottom line. I believe that organizations that don’t operate with that holistic mentality will see consumers begin to spend dollars elsewhere, especially since the new majority of consumers are Gen Z-ers and Millenials who demand that organizations become more socially and environmentally responsible. I also think that increasing developments in AI and data analytics will make it easier for leaders to measure their overarching impact and be more transparent about their business practices (data privacy, brand safety & suitability, etc.) and the footprint they leave with their products and services. On the flip side, due to the increasing developments in AI and data analytics, there are lots of opportunities for businesses to innovate and lead the charge as it comes to responsible technology, data privacy, child controls, etc.”

Prediction 3: Expect a greater intersection of emerging technologies, purpose and social movements—from products to tools for amplification.

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KR Liu, Head of Brand Accessibility, Google

“When it comes to disability innovation and representation, I would say that the movement in AI is a defining moment in how we move disability forward. From representation to how we advance innovation to support and represent disabled people. It’s important to create opportunities for communities to lead in these efforts and help keep their finger on the pulse. We need more representation at the top, especially when it comes to disability. My hope is in 5 years disability marketing isn’t a rare role.  It’s a requirement with brands who want to empower this work.”

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Max Friedman, CEO, Givebutter

 “The implementation of AI-based technologies will inevitably alter how all of us live and work in the coming years. Social impact organizations will be on the front lines ensuring that new technologies are accessible to and being used for the benefit of people and their communities. And new tools will enable change makers to better hone their mission, achieve their goals, and demonstrate their impact to grow community support and foster transparency and accountability.”

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Dan Yates, Co-founder and CEO, Greener

“The future of social impact is not a distant mirage; it’s a landscape we are shaping as we speak. I see a genuine revolution where leaders fuse purpose with profit, and tech-driven solutions soar to unprecedented heights. Technology is often seen as alarming and contrary to social progress (just look at the fallout from social media tools over the past decade), however it is absolutely essential when it comes to scaling and transforming society. 

Technology will continue to play a transformative role, enabling innovative solutions and scaling impact. Finally, leaders will recognize the importance of fostering inclusive and diverse organizations, understanding that diverse perspectives lead to more effective problem-solving and better outcomes for all stakeholders. As a technological optimist, I believe the pace of progress will be accelerated dramatically as more technological solutions are brought to market in the field of social impact.”

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Jonathan Adashek, Senior Vice President, Marketing, Communications and CSR, IBM

“I think transparency will become even more important in our social impact work. Organizations will need to work hard to put in place systems and campaigns that showcase everything they are doing, how and why they are doing it. In addition, I believe leaders now are looking more closely and focusing on technology as a way to meet expectations and differentiate their organizations. Leaders that want to make a deeper positive impact will need to invest more in technology.

Three factors that I can name right now driving these shifts are new regulation, the data challenge and ethical innovation. First, as I said before, pressure is coming from different fronts because people overall are paying more attention to societal needs, and they are setting high expectations for leaders. In that context, that pressure is transforming into new regulation. Those new policies are the ones that will define what organizations should do and how they should do it. Second, in order to meet these new requirements, social impact leaders will need to be more transparent about their work. And this is happening in this area and beyond. People are expecting you to show what you are doing, not to tell them. One of the great challenges for that level of transparency is data. You need the right platforms in place to be able to capture the data and demonstrate progress. The good news is that new innovations are paving the way for that. On the ethical side, leaders will need to ensure they have an ethical approach to these new innovations. AI has opened a new paradigm. Corporations and governments need to address this together.”

Stay tuned for the second part of our series, featuring insights from the Anthem Awards Academy that can shape and guide your efforts. To gain an additional window into what makes impactful work effective, see our latest insights with new jurors. 

If you are doing social impact work of any kind—from community-led initiatives to crafting digital campaigns for a social issue, amplify it in the Anthem Awards. Enter the 3rd Annual Anthem Awards to have your purpose-driven work reviewed by the Anthem Academy, and set a new benchmark for social impact. Submit your work before the Final Entry Deadline on Friday, September 15th.

Patagonia – Don’t Buy This Jacket

Patagonia has put social impact at the core of their brand mission and values from the start, and their iconic Don’t Buy This Jacket campaign demonstrates how brands can use their platform to make an impact — or better yet, to help reduce our impact. This 2011 ad ran in the New York Times on Black Friday, making a lasting impression for its bold message addressing the issue of consumerism head on and asking readers to take the Common Threads Initiative pledge to reduce, repair, reuse, recycle, and reimagine a world where we take only what nature can replace.

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Ad Council’s Love Has No Labels Movement

Love Has No Labels is a movement by The Ad Council to promote diversity, equity and inclusion of all people across race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age and ability.

Read our Q&A with Heidi Arthur, the Ad Council’s Chief Campaign Development Officer on the team behind LHNL collaborates with partners to combat implicit bias—from crafting PSAs to driving viewers to take action, to how brands and companies should approach corporate social responsibility with authenticity.

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