Looking Ahead: 2024

Looking Ahead: 2024

TREND REPORT
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When NationSwell surveyed corporate social impact and sustainability executives in July 2023, nearly 7 out of 10 said they’re anticipating a challenging year in 2024. Since then, we’ve witnessed an intensifying wave of anti-DEIB activism, read the dire warnings conveyed in the UNFCCC’s first Global Stocktake, and felt the surge of collective anxiety around the coming elections in the U.S. and around the world. At the same time, powerful examples of collective action, new and transformational technologies, and the continued resolve of purpose-driven leaders demand our attention and urge optimism into the picture.

At NationSwell, we too are resolved. We are resolved to support our membership community, partners, and concerned public in advancing progress on the issues that we believe matter most in the year ahead.

To ground our collective efforts, we have prepared this 2024 look ahead with four goals in mind:

  • To orient organizations, leaders, and their teams to the issues and trends that we see mattering most in 2024, supported by detailed evidence
  • To provide line of sight into the predictions and forecasts of experts steeped in those issues
  • To support scenario planning around a range of inevitabilities and possibilities
  • To voice our calls to action for the field and for ourselves

Our look ahead focuses on 6 major topics that NationSwell anticipates being central to the work of purpose-driven leaders and organizations in 2024:

  • Artificial intelligence
  • Climate progress
  • Democracy and civic engagement
  • Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, Belonging (DEIB) and economic opportunity
  • The employee-employer compact
  • The social impact and sustainability profession

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2023 Private Sector Social Impact and Sustainability Leadership Survey

2023 Private Sector Social Impact and Sustainability Leadership Survey

2023 brought social impact and sustainability work further into the social, political, and organizational spotlight, and presented leaders with distinct, long-term considerations for their work. Leaders encountered large-scale, composite challenges: the escalation of the anti-ESG movement; the Supreme Court’s ruling against affirmative action and its subsequent implications for diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB); the effects of an increasingly restrictive macroeconomic environment on teams and priorities; and the intensification of regulatory requirements. At the same time, social impact work has matured and deepened, with leaders investing heavily in employee engagement, leaning in on sustainability strategies, cautiously adopting AI, and empowering communities through trust-based and place-based work.

Against this backdrop, NationSwell set out to investigate what forces were most significant in changing the way leaders approached their priorities and decision-making over the past year, and what leaders anticipate about the environment, their organizations, and their jobs in the year to come. Between July and August 2023 we surveyed 74 corporate social impact and sustainability leaders across NationSwell’s membership community and beyond. The resulting report explores the direct opinions and experiences of those leaders, in service to advancing collective knowledge about their essential roles.

Below is a summary of the key findings discussed in greater detail in the report:

Theme 1: Leaders’ confidence takes a hit among a difficult year for impact work

  • Leaders’ satisfaction with their organizations’ social impact is waning marginally amid an increasingly challenging environment.
  • With trepidation about the year ahead, leaders’ confidence in their own work is also dwindling.

Theme 2: Economic and regulatory activity assert their dominance above other forces 

  • Two of 2023’s trending issues – the politicization of ESG and the emergence of generative AI – have not transformed social impact and sustainability strategies. 
  • Instead, macroeconomic conditions had widespread and deep impacts highlighted by layoffs, budget cuts, and new barriers to collaboration.
  • Over the next year, leaders predict that economic conditions and regulatory/legislative activity will be key factors in their prioritization and decision-making.
  • In recognition of their growing need, and in spite of economic uncertainty, leaders will advocate for more funding for social impact and sustainability work in the year ahead.

Theme 3: Influence is leaders’ most sought-after and valued currency 

  • Leaders respond most to the influence of their executive team, and want to wield their own influence in return.
  • Leaders are intent on improving their strategies and capabilities to engage with internal stakeholders.

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The state of play: Corporate sustainability

The state of play: Corporate sustainability

As climate change creates a growing risk to companies’ financial stability, sustainability programs offer a competitive advantage for businesses across size and sector. Those who are ahead of the curve are making bold commitments, deepening expertise, collaborating effectively, and greening their workforces. The most resolute business leaders will continue to push forward their strategies against political backlash. For them, it is a moment of opportunity not hesitancy. 

In this report, we help leaders get up to speed and check their progress against the latest macro trends, policy and regulatory developments (U.S. and E.U.), and pace-setting organizations.

The trends: 

  • Corporate climate commitments and leadership accountability are on the rise. But the rate of progress remains well behind what’s needed to achieve 2050 goals. 
  • Political and legislative activity are creating cross-pressures on sustainability work. But stakeholder activism remains a strong tailwind. 
  • New innovations and collaborations reflect a growing supply chain playbook. Companies know that Scope 3 impact cannot be ignored. 
  • Jobs–both existing and new–are becoming greener. Employers and workers are both driving the transition. 
  • Water and biodiversity are making big moves toward the center of corporate interest. Pending emissions disclosure rules remain top of mind.

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Datasets for economic mobility

Datasets for economic mobility

CURATED COLLECTION

Wealth inequality and income inequality in the United States are significantly higher than in other OECD countries. And economic mobility is rigid. The likelihood of an individual moving from low wealth status to high wealth status over the course of their lifetime is low. Income disparity and wealth inequality are rooted in an array of social and economic factors, including race and geography. These factors create what is known as the economic opportunity gap.

This Curated Collection provides social impact leaders in the public and private sectors with a roundup of data-driven tools to strengthen their decision-making processes in addressing the economic opportunity gap. The resources provide specific consideration for indicators of racial equity and social justice and factors that promote mobility for disadvantaged groups across neighborhoods, communities, and states.

Resources include (but are not limited to) the following: 

  • Tools that allow companies to benchmark themselves against others on strategy and progress; 
  • Datasets that support deciding which communities would benefit most from company investments to increase equity;
  • Resources that encourage companies to prioritize racial and social factors that affect indicators of wealth (e.g., access to education and employment, and asset ownership).

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How consumers value social impact

How consumers value social impact

NATIONSWELL PRIMER

Business performance and brand value are increasingly understood as connected to an organization’s social purpose and impact. In fact, 89% of business leaders believe companies that lead with purpose have a competitive advantage in today’s marketplace, and 85% agree being a purpose-driven company drives profit (Porter Novelli, 2020). One of the groups at the root of this advantage are employees, who exert significant influence over a company’s success. In an environment where leaders overestimate customer trust by 38% and employee trust by 45% (Deloitte, 2021), it’s important to understand how these stakeholders factor social impact into their decisions about which corporations to buy from and work for. 

This one-page primer compiles illustrative data about the ways consumers are driving up the value of corporate social impact.


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Insights for impact: 2022 edition

Insights for impact: 2022 edition

This year-end report synthesizes the key learnings from each of NationSwell’s 2022 research publications and highlights several Studio projects with widely-relevant research deliverables. They cover a range of evergreen and emergent topic areas, including ESG, DEIB, community-centered philanthropy, corporate civic engagement, the future of work, catalytic cross-sector partnerships, and more. By focusing on solutions over exposition, and elevating the most urgent ideas, NationSwell’s insights reports showcase our deep commitment to valuing your time and delivering what you need to lead at your best.


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2022 Private sector social impact leadership survey

2022 Private sector social impact leadership survey

Leaders who bring confidence, creativity, and conviction to their work are arguably the most important ingredient to generating social impact. Often behind the scenes, these individuals play key roles in elevating and executing the social and environmental priorities of their organizations, priorities that are increasingly imperative for the private sector. Juggling stakeholder interests, cross-company engagement, and increasing expectations for monitoring and reporting, delivery of a social impact strategy is not an easy task.

From 2021 to 2022, we saw the emergence of the Russia-Ukraine war, the highest daily case counts of the COVID-19 pandemic, multiple mass shootings, deadly instances of extreme weather, and the repeal of Roe v. Wade – all followed closely by ever-louder calls for the private sector to speak out and step up. Leaders in corporate social responsibility and ESG (environmental, social, and governance) were on the receiving end of those calls, setting the priorities and making the decisions that shaped their organization’s actions. 

So what exactly were the most significant forces that changed the way leaders in these functions approached their priorities and decision-making over the past year? What did leaders do differently, and why? And what are leaders anticipating the environment, their organizations, and their jobs to hold in store for the year to come? 

To answer those questions and more, NationSwell launched a survey in August 2022 specifically for private sector social impact leaders. The resulting report explores nine major findings across three categories: 

General sentiments

  • Despite a challenging environment, leaders are satisfied with their organization’s social impact and their personal contributions; they also remain confident in their ability to perform in the year ahead
  • Compared with their assessment of overall social impact, leaders are less impressed by their organization’s response to pivotal moments in the past year; the same is true of their individual contributions during those moments
  • Leaders view creating economic growth – for communities and for individuals – as secondary to their company’s other societal contributions

Headwinds and tailwinds

  • Global conflict, the pandemic, and extreme weather significantly outrank domestic social and policy events – including the repeal of Roe v. Wade – for influence on leaders’ priorities
  • Leaders share a growing concern about economic conditions, but differ widely on other top headwinds to impact
  • Organizational stakeholders provide steady tailwinds for social impact leaders, but the influence of other companies is on the rise

Change and adaptation

  • Acknowledging key vulnerabilities and the power of collective action, leaders are creating new frameworks for responding to pivotal moments and seeking strength in numbers
  • To become more confident about their paths ahead, leaders need more financial resources; they also need clarifying information about their organizations
  • In considering overall career goals, leaders crave thought leadership – their own and that of others

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