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Q&A Nov 25, 2022

Creating Social Impact: A Q&A with Michelle Levi

We caught up with Social Impact Lead for Europe Michelle Levi, who ensures we meet the needs of our clients, communities and wider society by the way we do business

Michelle Levi headshot in banner graphic

At Jacobs, social value is embedded in PlanBeyondSM 2.0, our sustainable business approach, so that we focus on integrating social value and equity considerations and innovations into the solutions we deliver for our clients. As a purpose-led company, we know we have a pivotal role to play in creating a fairer society.

We connect with Michelle to find out more about her experience delivering social value and engagement on complex private and public sector projects, working closely with developers, contractors and supply chains. Now focused on our internal approach, Michelle is managing how Jacobs aligns with recent U.K. Government legislative changes around social value and how we embed this in our supply chain.

Tell us about your background and role at Jacobs.

I’ve spent most of my career in stakeholder-facing roles within the built environment. It was evident to me, early in my career, that being a responsible business brought shared benefits for my clients and my employer as much as the communities we worked in. As the social value agenda has evolved, I’ve led approaches and teams to respond to these issues.

I joined Jacobs in 2017. Having previously worked for a tier 1 contractor, it was interesting to learn about the societal challenges that faced our clients before construction even starts. I was given the opportunity to lead Jacobs’ corporate social impact agenda at the start of the pandemic in 2020. It was absolutely the right time to build upon our strategic partnership with Simetrica-Jacobs, a research consultancy specializing in social value, wellbeing research and impact evaluation, and apply their innovative approaches to measuring social value to ourselves.

Over the past year we’ve been working hard to develop and launch a social impact measurement framework and toolkit that empowers our teams to deliver place-based approaches, designed around community needs.  We conducted a significant gap analysis, evaluating how our corporate initiatives supported social value at a project level, as well as identifying best practice and opportunities to develop new approaches. We worked closely with Simetrica-Jacobs to identify what aspects of our approach delivered societal value and then developed a bespoke version of their Social Value Bank so that our project teams can begin tracking and recording the impact they are making.   

What excites you most about your role?

Working in social value is a pretty exciting place to be at the moment! The recent changes in government procurement in the U.K., alongside the widening inequality gap, highlighted by Covid-19, means we have to be agile and innovative to support communities facing the biggest challenges. I love exploring new approaches, such as taking part in the Social Mobility Foundation Index for the last two years and embedding social mobility as a demographic within our Human Resources systems. I get involved in exploring new collaborations that will address these challenges and I get tremendous satisfaction from hearing success stories where colleagues have developed their own approaches locally and really supported community and client ambitions. I want everyone at Jacobs to feel empowered to explore new approaches.

I feel passionately about removing barriers for those facing the biggest challenges, tackling economic inequality and improving social mobility. In 2021, we kicked off a program with upReach to sponsor 60 students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds to prepare for high quality graduate roles in engineering. In our first year we hosted internships, mentoring, events and made four graduate offers, receiving 100% positive feedback from the students on the program!

“I feel passionately about removing barriers for those facing the biggest challenges, tackling economic inequality and improving social mobility.”

Michelle Levi headshot

Michelle Levi

Jacobs Social Impact Lead for Europe

Why is measuring social value so important?

Everything we do as a business has an impact on society. Understanding, measuring and evaluating the impact of how we do business helps us deliver better outcomes for clients, communities and colleagues. We have set ourselves a challenge to ensure our U.K. portfolio of projects and programs are net positive by 2025. This means giving back more than we take and measuring the broader impacts of how we operate. We’ve made this commitment to transparent reporting to understand our total impact and to ensure our people and project teams are working together to improve society and enhance our environmental, social and governance (ESG) contribution. It’s not enough to make this commitment without also pledging to robustly measure and report the annual social value that we generate. Using only the most rigorous approaches to social value measurement, developed in partnership with Simetrica-Jacobs, we now have a data-driven approach to monitor our impact and continuously use data to improve our intelligence, maximizing our positive impact on society and directing investment where it is needed the most. 

How does Jacobs approach social value in the U.K.?

Most of our clients exist to solve societal problems, so it goes without saying that not only can we help our clients explore better societal outcomes through their investment, but we have an opportunity to create additional social value in the way we deliver the contract, and the great needs-based social value plans we deliver in the community!

We have developed three key streams of social value, all fully complimentary to the project lifecycle and have rebadged our internal approach as “Social Impact.” Our other streams are focused on inequality and investment, supporting clients to understand, measure and deliver social value on their projects, seeking greater return on capital expenditure.

 If you aren’t working, what would we most likely find you doing?

When I’m not being a taxi service for my children, I love cooking, photography and recently renovated a vintage caravan.

What do you enjoy most about being part of #OurJacobs?

I have learned so much since joining Jacobs — we deliver so many services and work across so many sectors that there is always something new to learn. The culture of caring at Jacobs is amazing! At every level of the business, I come across wonderful and inspiring people who genuinely care about colleagues’ wellbeing.

About the interviewee

Michelle Levi recording podcast

Understanding the balance between business growth and contributing positively to society is a core belief that has shaped the direction of Michelle’s career. Integrating social value to corporate processes and helping business understand the benefits of doing this is Michelle’s passion.

Michelle has extensive experience of delivering social value strategies and working closely with multiple stakeholders to improve understanding of social value. Working with organizations to help them recognize the power that business has to tackle some of the more complex challenges facing society is really important to Michelle.

Michelle is also a Non-Executive Director at Housing Association and Charitable Trust (HACT). The charity of the social housing sector, HACT has driven the transformation and development of housing providers for over 60 years.

Michelle earned a Bachelor of Arts in Public Relations from Leeds Beckett University and a Post Graduate Certificate in Sustainable Business from the University of Cambridge.

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