Novogradac’s Chief Social Impact Officer Discusses the Importance of Engaging Stakeholders, Creating a Custom Social Impact Strategy

Published by Teresa Garcia on Tuesday, February 2, 2021
Journal Cover Thumb February 2021

The concept of social impact has been around for decades, but national and global events of the past few years prompted organizations to take a closer look at how they can effect positive change for their stakeholders and communities. Amy Hook, Novogradac’s chief social impact officer, says that for both community and economic purposes, this is a crucial time for businesses to evaluate their social impact, which she defines as the positive or negative effects a company has on the planet and people.

“I think in 2020 we saw how linked social impact topics and the business world actually are,” said Hook. “Look at how COVID, a human health issue, has impacted the business world and our economy–and not just the short-term financial losses. We’re talking about something that potentially could forever change the way we view office work. The social unrest triggered by the killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd that left our communities and our citizens no choice but to speak out–to become politically active in a pandemic. Businesses were having conversations with their employees about their safety while protesting. These topics fall into the social impact realm, but have had a tremendous impact on business.”

Hook said the business community’s viewpoint on social impact has changed dramatically over the past few years as more institutional shareholders focus on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues. More publicly held companies are developing ESG programs and are incorporating ESG concepts into their corporate strategies. “Institutional shareholders are requesting ESG information because historically, companies that do focus on ESG and integrate ESG strategies into their operations financially perform better during hardship. Companies that focus on ESG are a more sound investment,” said Hook.

Businesses are not only looking at the impact of their actions, but how they strategize, measure and evaluate those impacts. Hook suggests starting with a materiality assessment by engaging internal and external stakeholders to identify key expectations, risks, concerns and opportunities. “From there, talk through the results with internal leaders to determine how the results align with what is important from the business’ perspective,” said Hook. “That is how you form your strategy and also what should be covered in reporting.”

The next step is to “tackle the data” by asking important questions, such as what data is needed to capture a businesses’ social and environmental impact and how can that data be gathered efficiently. Hook said setting baselines at this stage will help businesses measure success as their social and environmental impact programs grow.

While each organization has unique opportunities and risks associated with social impact, Hook said the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations in 2015 can serve as a useful impact framework for organizations. Many of the SDGs directly align with the work of community development organizations, such as eliminating poverty and hunger, while promoting decent work and economic growth. Other SDGs include developing affordable and clean energy, building sustainable cities and communities, and creating resilient infrastructure.

A Personal Journey

Hook joined Novogradac in November 2020 to lead the company’s newly established social impact office. The office was founded to support Novogradac’s continued commitment to cultivate positive social change, including a pledge to support people and communities of color. As chief social impact officer, Hook advises Novogradac’s executive committee and works with stakeholders to review, assess and improve Novogradac’s social and environmental impact.

Hook said she looks forward to helping clients create their own path to sustainable social impact. “The services and solutions we provide to our clients–centered on social and environmental tax credits and programs–result in long-lasting impact in our communities,” said Hook. “Our work contributes to building and maintaining affordable housing, decreasing the number of food deserts, providing community health services, preserving cultural heritage and creating alternative energy solutions.”

For Hook, creating positive social impact is not only a professional calling, but one that is deeply personal. Hook’s definition of social impact has evolved over the years with her work and life experiences, starting with spending some of her formative years in unsubsidized low-income housing in Columbia, South Carolina. “Seeing the difference between where I was living and where my friends lived had more of an impact on me than I realized, said Hook”

Those childhood experiences drove Hook to create a sense of home for herself in adulthood. After receiving her undergraduate degree in psychology from Clemson University, she bought and renovated her first house in southwest Columbia at the age of 21. The 1940s house needed updates to its layout, flooring, fireplace and fixtures. Hook repainted the house, installed new kitchen flooring and cabinets, renovated the fireplace and converted the attic into an additional bedroom and bathroom.

The renovation project spurred an interest in real estate and Hook went back to Clemson for a master’s degree in real estate development. “I became passionate about urban design, historic buildings and how do we adapt historic buildings to new uses,” said Hook. “I learned about the low-income housing tax credit, the new markets tax credit, historic tax credits and how these public-private partnerships come together like a puzzle to have an impact on society.”

Hook became a real estate developer and worked on LEED-certified new markets tax credit and historic tax credit properties. After that, she worked on HUD funded programming in the public sector, then ran programs and provided technical assistance to affordable housing providers through Enterprise Community Partners’ green communities national initiative. Hook later developed a line of business at ICF International as a consultant, where she focused on energy burden, healthy living environments and climate justice for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and for the Department of Energy (DOE). Most recently, she led environmental and social governance programs for corporations, including Regions Bank and SunTrust.

“At 21, [social impact] was about improving my neighborhood,” said Hook. “At 30, as a real estate developer, I wanted to create quality spaces for more people to connect or call home. At 34, as a consultant for HUD and DOE, I wanted to play a role in providing safe, healthy, affordable housing to all people, particularly underserved populations. Now, at 43, I want to create impact on a broader scale using a variety of resources to do so.”