Future of Social Impact: What to Watch for in 2024

What does 2024 mean for the future of social impact? In 2023, discussions on artificial intelligence sparked questions about the future of work, propelling historic worker strikes and union wins across diverse industries. A striking U.S. Supreme Court ruling reshaped the landscape of affirmative action on college campuses. 2023 is set to be the hottest year on record, with heatwaves and extreme weather everywhere from Peru to the Philippines. Amidst ongoing economic uncertainty, we await pivotal elections in the U.S., India, E.U., U.K., and Russia in the upcoming year. 

As we step into 2024, it is clear that leaders will face greater threats in the work of advancing social change. In the face of these formidable challenges, we will need deep and sustained systems change to sustain progress against some of the greatest challenges facing humankind today: economic inequality, health, and climate. There lies an incredible opportunity for philanthropic and corporate leaders to exhibit unwavering leadership, offering solutions that benefit both people and the planet.

As we enter 2024, we asked leaders across FSG to share how social impact actors can rise to the challenges of the upcoming year.

1. Corporate changemakers will be key to advancing impact 

With the rollback on affirmative action in the U.S., ESG backlash, and ongoing inflationary pressures, companies may face strong trepidation and internal roadblocks to advance commitments to social impact. According to Nikhil Bumb, managing director at FSG, “Even the best-intentioned companies are facing challenges on maintaining momentum to be purpose-led, address unmet social needs, and advance sustainability efforts amidst all of this interference internally and externally.”

The corporate changemaker plays a crucial role in enabling companies to advance social impact amidst external and internal roadblocks. Despite companies articulating impressive strategies for driving change, they often encounter challenges in translating these plans into tangible, lasting impacts. Corporate changemakers at all levels of the company are needed to champion social impact by linking efforts to business performance and building the enabling conditions within a company to advance social impact for decades to come. 

Chirlie Felix, managing director at FSG, emphasizes the new skills that corporate changemakers will need to wield in 2024. She says, “Now more than ever, changemakers will need to hone their ability to lead, influence and navigate complex internal dynamics. Leaders will need to be adept at changing mindsets through strategic storytelling, galvanize champions across the business, and develop sustainable approaches to cultural and change management to embed social impact more broadly across the business.”

2. Ensuring job quality in the future of work

Across the globe, workers from diverse industries took to the streets in historic labor strikes that caught the attention of business leaders and sparked conversations about the future of work. While the negotiations did include wages, the strikes also focused on health and safety, benefits, scheduling, and displacement due to emerging technologies such as AI, demonstrating that the current workforce system and talent practices are not working for the hourly employees who power our economies. 

“With historic labor strikes and union wins in 2023, more employers were forced to recognize the crucial role that frontline employees play in creating business value,” said Kimberly Shin, managing director of Talent Rewire. “In 2024, we hope to see more employers recognize that improving job quality and engaging with frontline employees extends beyond working conditions and fair wages; it means fostering a sense of belonging and dignity and building a culture that embeds input of employees from all levels.” 

In particular, intentionality is required to ensure that efforts to create new jobs advance economic mobility for workers and communities. With more than two years since the passage of U.S. legislation such as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, Inflation Reduction Act, and the CHIPS and Science Act enabling historic federal funding for local economic development, we will see the long-awaited implementation of many of these programs in 2024. 

In 2024, we will see a wave of companies establish significant presences in new locations due to this historic federal funding incentivizing growth in target industries. As part of these incentives, companies will be required to develop community benefit agreements outlining how they can foster local benefit to communities and job-seekers. In reference to these community benefit agreements, Erin Sullivan, director at FSG, underscores, “Including and benefiting local communities and jobseekers is crucial to any effort for equitable economic growth. Companies who both meet and go beyond the requirements will position their new operations for long-term success.” 

3. A rising commitment to place

Recognizing that you can’t apply a generic national approach to communities shaped by a long history of place, more funders are taking a place-based approach in their philanthropy, making deliberate and direct investments into specific places and regions, working across issue areas, and convening local stakeholders.

Fay Hanleybrown, managing director and head of FSG’s U.S. consulting practice, says, “Over the last decade, we have seen a rise in place-based giving, which allows funders to bring together the stakeholders who know their communities best, rather than applying “top-down” solutions that are driven by the funder. Place-based philanthropy empowers funders to center their commitments to equity and to work with partners in adapting to shifting local contexts.” 

Jennifer Splansky Juster, executive director of the Collective Impact Forum, speaks about the important need for philanthropy to intentionally center equity amidst broader shifts faced by communities, such as the Supreme Court ruling on affirmative action. She writes, “In 2024, we hope to see philanthropy stepping up to keep conversations about equity front and center and to invest in the collaboration, organizing, advocacy, and legal strategies needed to ensure a focus on equity remains a priority in local work in the U.S.” In short, place-based collaborations are crucial to ensuring that a focus on equity remains a priority even amidst local and national changes.

4. Leveraging government action and regulations for climate justice

With the anticipated announcement and roll-out of mandatory climate disclosures in the U.S. and E.U., many companies are dedicating more resources to the “E” in ESG. A leading executive placement firm found that chief sustainability officers who sit on the corporate leadership team increased from 41% in 2011 to 76% in 2023. This is an opportunity for social impact leaders to leverage new requirements and programs not simply as an exercise in compliance and risk management but as a way to accelerate their contributions to climate change mitigation and resilience. 

Companies can develop a competitive advantage by moving beyond seeing ESG as a risk to be mitigated or managed for compliance. Instead, they can recognize it as an opportunity to generate shared value for people and the planet. Rishi Agarwal, managing director and head of FSG Asia says, “Leveraging emerging ESG themes can provide companies with a competitive advantage and spurt the next growth phase if companies succeed in developing shared value business models.” Lolita Castrique-Meier, director at FSG, shares that companies who want to meaningfully perform on sustainability will need to establish long-term plans for ensuring that their efforts also integrate the “S” in ESG. She says, “Despite three out of four investors believing that ESG should be integrated directly into corporate strategies, fewer than 1 out of 5 perceive social inequality as a threat to business success. In 2024, companies can leverage government regulations on ESG to build long-term plans that align their financial incentives with environmental and societal well-being.”

Philanthropy will also be crucial in ensuring that government action on climate change advances equity and opportunity. In 2024, we expect to see implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act, the largest climate investment in U.S. history to accelerate the transition to a clean energy economy. 

Laura Tilghman, director at FSG, writes, “As implementation of federal funds picks up in communities across the U.S., a focus on climate justice is pivotal. Philanthropy can support a strong focus on equity as part of that implementation—directly supporting local leaders and organizations to advance an agenda serving those who suffer most from the impacts of the climate crisis and also more equitably distribute the benefits of new economic opportunities and energy systems.”

5. Advancing health equity in a post-pandemic world 

In 2024, philanthropic and corporate leaders must figure out what it looks like to advance health equity in a post-pandemic world. The pandemic exposed long-existing health disparities, and many players made big commitments to health equity in 2020. As we transition to the endemic stages of COVID-19, social impact leaders will need to figure out how to keep the momentum for health equity going amidst continued economic uncertainty and reduced media attention. 

Nikhil Bumb, managing director at FSG, notes that it will be crucial for corporate changemakers to ensure that their strategies for health equity extend beyond R&D and philanthropic commitments. He says, “Last year, companies leading the charge on health equity moved beyond R&D and philanthropic commitments to embed health equity into commercial objectives, and we’re likely to see other companies follow suit in 2024. New FDA requirements for clinical trial diversity plans helped many companies embed health equity into R&D. The next step is looking to identify commercial strategies to improve patient reach, access, and the quality of clinical care and treatment.”

For funders, Abigail Ridgway, managing director at FSG, highlights the need for greater upstream investment from philanthropy in mental health. Receiving just over 1% of all foundation giving prior to the pandemic, mental health and substance use has been a chronically underfunded area in philanthropy. However, the pandemic propelled mental health into the global spotlight, as millions grappled with isolation, uncertainty, and loss. 

In regards to the U.S. behavioral health crisis, she writes, “With 47% of Americans living in a mental health workforce shortage area, we simply cannot treat our way out of our country’s behavioral health crisis. Philanthropy’s risk-taking capacity is needed to invest in greater upstream solutions that address broader social determinants of health.”

As we reflect on the events of 2023, we are inspired by the ways that leaders have been spurred to act amidst historic labor movements, environmental crises, and health disparities. Looking ahead to 2024, John Harper, CEO of FSG shared, “The problems that the world faces today are incredibly complex and interrelated. We need leaders working across sectors and issue areas to break down silos in the pursuit of impact, and I’m excited to partner with others to bring an even more intersectional approach to our work.” In 2024, we need funders and business leaders to collectively leverage the power and resources of the philanthropic and private sector in new and creative ways. 

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