Access to Underserved Communities

Sarah Simon

17 min Read Time | November 30th 2022

Key Takeaways

1

The topic is secondary to the Core Business Impact topic. It deals with a company's ability to ensure broad access to its products and services in the context of underserved populations to people who did not previously have access.

2

Analyses should be as exhaustive as possible; providing an overview of how the company provides access in different areas, not only treating one product/service in one underserved group.

3

The focus should not be on donations or philanthropic initiatives (they can be a secondary point to support the analysis).

What is it?

Lack of access to products and services is attributed to widespread inequality brought on by underdevelopment and discrimination. Inequality is attributed to social and economic differences that can be seen in different forms.

Underserved communities are groups that are excluded from accessing basic products/services or which have poor access to them.

Below are some examples of underserved groups:

  • Older people,

  • Residents of remote/rural areas,

  • Low-income households,

  • Veterans and their families,

  • Homeless people,

  • People with rare diseases, etc.

SDG poster UN emblem PRINT 2020

SDG choice

✅ SDG: 1, 3, 4, 10

✅ ILG: Basic Needs

✅ Category: Products

Impact Assessment

Topic Description

The topic addresses a company's ability to ensure broad access to its products and services in the context of underserved population groups.

Analyses on this topic must focus on how and by how much the company provides access to its core products or services in areas where people did not previously have access or have poor access - geographically, financially, distribution-wise, or in terms of rarity (think of illnesses).

For instance, a water management company provides wells and ensures access to clean and safe drinking water in an area where people lack access to it. Another example would be an energy company providing electricity through smart renewable grids for people living in rural areas where there was previously no access to electricity.

Analyses on this topic should not be about donations (this can be a secondary point if the impact is really significant). The topic is all about the people it is helping and getting them out of difficult situations through the company's products and/or services.

Threshold

There is no absolute threshold for this topic, but the analysis must be exhaustive, and the impact must be significant and persistent. The topic is more about depth and persistence. As underserved communities are by default smaller in terms of breadth, this absolute number matters, but it is not where we would draw a line.

The analysis should explore how the product or service is a critical one and the deep/profound impacts it has on vulnerable or minority groups who may have never had access to such necessities beforehand.

Providing basic needs is a direct way to achieve welfare outcomes, such as improved health, education, farming, and family planning practices. This impact should be measured to gauge the scale of the impact.

In general, we can claim that the impact is significant if:

  • It leads to a big change when we look for the "before and after" situation;

  • It provides access to the majority of people who had no access to it before;

  • It is related to a product or service considered a basic need (clothing, communications, education, energy, finance, food, healthcare, housing, sanitation, transport, and water).

On the other hand, the impact is negligible if:

  • It is a one-time action/initiative;

  • It is not focused on underserved groups;

  • It does not really change people's situation, livelihoods, or access to basic resources;

  • Small donations ( <$1 million);

  • It is not related to a basic need product or service;

  • Affordability*, unless it is for the real estate industries.

*Analyses on this topic should not discuss the affordability of the products or services offered. While the topic of affordability looks at how the company is pricing its products in relation to its peers and how this hinders or enhances people's ability to access them, access to underserved communities looks at the efforts of the company to expand access to its products or services to the people who need it the most.

Ratings: There are no hard thresholds for this topic as vulnerable groups are usually on the lower part of the scale.

The analysis is publishable if it has demonstrated that the company has had a direct and deep impact on underserved groups through its products or services offered.

Impact Assessment

Introduction

The introduction must describe the broader impact, and it is crucial for providing context for the rest of the analysis.

Below are key points to include and a structure to consider:

  • The introduction should first establish the importance of the product/service being discussed (i.e., medical care, houses, water, etc.) and why its lack of access is detrimental to people's well-being.

  • Next, you can provide more specific information and quantitative data that can help contextualise the impact that will be discussed in the core analysis.

    • For example, how many people do not have access to the product/service? Why is it considered a basic need?

  • If the analysis is only going to discuss one specific underserved group, you should provide details and include data about them. Adding socio-political as well as economic context helps contextualise the impact described.

You can read more about how to write a strong introduction here.

Core Analysis

The core of the analysis should briefly introduce the company’s main products and/or services offered, what impact it is having, and how significant the impact is.

Briefly introduce the company and its core product and/or service that will be discussed in the analysis.

Caution: do not overlap with the Core Business Impact analysis and only include information that is needed for the reader to understand the issues treated.

The core analysis should be as comprehensive as possible. This means not treating only one product/service in one underserved community, but rather providing an overview of how the company is providing access in different areas.

If there are too many initiatives, you can provide a more general overview of them and, next, choose one to three projects that have the most significant impact and that are representative of the company.

Conduct a deeper analysis of these initiatives, and avoid describing multiple initiatives superficially or in an anecdotal manner.

Clearly state and describe the vulnerable group(s) being discussed, and why they are considered underserved.

Include information about the ‘before and after’ of the company's initiative.

  • For instance: before providing the vaccines, how many people were at risk or had contracted the disease? After administering the free vaccines, by how much did infection or mortality rates decrease?

  • If there is no quantitative data for the "before"; we can accept more qualitative data. However, provide sufficient information to allow for a way to benchmark the company’s impact.

  • How deep is the impact? How and by how much does it improve people's lives? How many people are being positively impacted?

  • What is the persistence of the impact? Is there any evidence that the company will keep the initiative described? Are its impacts can still be experienced today?

Conclusion

In the conclusion, please add a brief sentence summing up the total number of people who benefited and the period of time.

For example, "In the last three years, the company enhanced the health of approximately 200,000 people through access to its products”.


Common Mistakes:

  • Analyses on this topic should not discuss the affordability of the products or services offered. This is treated under another topic.

  • The focus should not be on donations or philanthropic initiatives. If relevant, they can be included as a secondary point to support the main issue in the analysis.

  • Avoid making big claims that are unsubstantiated with quantitative data, having the text mirroring sources. For instance, claiming that companies "improve,"; "provide", "empower," etc. This information should not be included if there is no data to prove this and show how this is being done. You do not need to make the impact seem bigger than it actually is by making big claims about helping underserved groups and its impacts. Remain nuanced, unbiased, and factual to just report on the impact data.

  • Whenever discussing partnerships or collaborations, we need to know:
    • What is the role of the company in such an arrangement;

    • If the company is one of the major players in the arrangement or if there are, for instance, 10 other companies/institutions engaged and the company is just one more among them.

  • Go beyond the company's own reports/websites to avoid green/social washing. If you cannot find a source to corroborate what the company has done for a community, try to research that community to see if any studies or news articles have been published on empowerment. You can, for instance, search on google scholar for the initiative without the company's name. There are usually studies on this.


To describe the scale of the impact, take into account:

1/ The breadth of the impact

  • Is the impact local, national, or global?

  • How many people are concerned? Thousands? Millions? Billions?

2/ The depth of the impact

  • Is the life of people concerned deeply affected, or does the issue just marginally impact them?

  • Are the changes brought by the issue profoundly changing society or the planet?

3/ The persistence of the impact

  • How long would the impact described last for? Months? Years? Decades?

  • How reversible is the impact described in the impact analysis? Can it be easily stopped/extended?


In your analysis, make sure you add value to your readers and go beyond the company’s CSR report by not merely reporting data from the company’s report but going the extra mile of providing additional metrics, studies, and sources to make your analysis robust and the impact value and scale are clear.

Industry and Sector-Specific Information

Health Care sector

The focus should be on providing access to healthcare in developing countries or to vulnerable populations through generics, education, training, and others.

The impact assessment should be on the company's core business products/services, whether it is about treatments, tests, controlling illness rates, etc. It must include impact data and show how these populations are underserved and how thanks to the company, their lives have improved.

Consider the main drugs and treatments offered by the company, as well as access to education and training. Through this analysis, you should identify the number of people who got access to such products/services that previously did not have access.

Consider points of access such as distribution, under-served communities, rural areas, geographical-specific health issues, lack of staff and knowledge, etc.

    Caution: This topic is about the impact on people and should not be about R&D.

    Example: Malaria is a major issue in specific geographic regions where the general population cannot afford treatment.

    Real Estate

    For the real estate industry, it is important to assess whether companies provide access to housing for underserved groups. This can be low-income people, veterans, the elderly, and disabled persons, amongst others.

    The introduction should provide information about the importance of adequate housing and the impact it has on people's well-being.

    You should consider all housing offered by the company and see, out of the total, how many are offered in areas and to people who previously did not have access. Consider the socio-political and economic context of where the housing is offered, its affordability, and to whom.

    It should focus on providing access to housing in developing countries or to vulnerable populations low-income housing, elderly homes, etc.

    Consider all housing offered by the company, and out of the total, how many are offered in areas and to people who previously did not have access? Is the housing affordable?

    Consider points of access such as distribution, under-served communities, rural areas, SMEs, commercial access, and different minority groups such as low-income, disabled, elderly, veterans, etc.

    Caution: This topic should not address gentrification, as this impact is captured in another topic.

    Example: What about recreational centres in communities across the world? Are they putting their know-how into providing a service? Or are they a supplier or engineering organisation or NGO that supplies infrastructure or access to basic needs?

    Consumer Finance

    For this industry, the focus can be on financial inclusion. More specifically, consider how the company is making banking and other financial services accessible for all.

    This topic also includes efforts to improve financial literacy, which means providing the tools so people can develop financial skills and make better decisions regarding their money.

    The analysis should explain the relevance of financial inclusion and/or literacy and the impact of accessing financial products and services such as bank accounts, loans, micro-financing, digital payment services, financial advice, and education, amongst others, depending on the company’s impact. 

    Consider points of access such as distribution, under-served communities, rural areas, SMEs, commercial access, and different minority groups such as low-income, disabled, elderly, veterans, etc. 

    It should include the total amount of unbanked people who are getting access to these forms of consumer finance, how they are benefiting from the relevant initiatives, and, how this is impacting their lives.


    Education

    For this industry, the focus should be on providing access to education in developing countries or to vulnerable populations, low-income people, etc.

    The introduction should highlight the importance of education and the broad socio-economic and political impacts of its lack.

    The core analysis should mention the total amount of people who are benefiting from access to education and should consider the points of access such as distribution, under-served communities, rural areas, different minority groups such as low-income, disabled, elderly, etc., and, if possible, the actual impact on their lives.


    Utilities (energy and water)

    For utility companies, the focus should be on providing access to its services (such as clean and safe water and electricity,) through projects and infrastructure for communities where there was not previously any access.

    Community-based solar and wind initiatives can have positive social impacts from decreased dependency on public utilities, and supplying local electricity to schools, hospitals, farms, community facilities, and more. The core analysis should consider all the solar or wind development projects offered by the company implemented in areas where there was a need. 

    Consider the different points of access such as distribution, underserved communities, and rural areas, amongst others, and measure how many people benefitted and how this impacted their lives.

    Companies providing access to clean water and sanitation through projects and infrastructure greatly impacts communities where there was not previously any access. Not only is drinking water vital for survival, but it also is for hygiene and mitigating diseases, as well as critical for household purposes. In the analysis, consider all the clean water and sanitation projects offered by the company that has been implemented in areas where there was a need.

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