Chairing the #ImpactSummit: A journey into the heart of ESG transformation

Written by Leigh Smyth, FRSA, CEO, Impact Match

Chairing the #ImpactSummit was not just an opportunity; it was a source of immense fulfilment and pride. As someone deeply passionate about advocating for positive change and engaging with thought leaders in the ESG space, the event became a platform to amplify the urgent call for impactful digital leadership, or as I often say doing well of course but only if doing good at the same time no? Isn’t it possible to live in a world where we can have both?  I’m thrilled to share some key insights and defining moments from the summit, where we collectively explored how to drive transformative change through ESG practices while navigating the absolute dilemma surrounding AI.

Infusing “Humanity First” into AI:

  • To kick us off, Jo Miller, a member of the Digital Leaders Advisory Board, struck a chord with me when she emphasised the need to infuse “humanity first” into AI solutions. It’s not just about technology; it’s about shaping a more compassionate and inclusive world. This resonated deeply with my commitment to ensuring that technology serves humanity with ethical integrity, even in the face of the  AI dilemma.

Navigating ESG together:

  • Taking the stage as the chair, I had the privilege of witnessing Mattie Yeta PhD, CSO at CGI, underscore the collective role we play in navigating the complexities of ESG. The connections made and networks, such as #digileaders were celebrated as vital support systems. It was a fulfilling moment to see the collaborative spirit that defines the ESG space and Mattie reminded us how lucky we are no matter how hard at times to get to work in this space.Celebrating Data-Driven Success:
  • DWP Digital’s focus on the role of data in ESG, presented by Emma Presley Abbott and Seth Finegan, was a real eye opener to me. The emphasis on Sustainability champions aligned with digital and data-driven agendas showcased the power of celebrating existing successes within organisations as a driving force for ESG advancement and took me right back to understanding the evidence behind the champion model in driving real change.  

ESG at a personal level:

  • Emma Presley Abbott’s insight into playing out ESG at a personal “purpose” driven level was a powerful moment during the summit. It brought forward the idea that our personal commitment to sustainability can become a driving force within organisations, attracting like-minded talent and fostering a culture of responsibility. 

The impact of storytelling:

  • Beth Knight’s storytelling about the profound impact of technology on social issues left an indelible mark on me. The ability of technology to address critical global challenges, as demonstrated in reducing paedophilia in developing nations, showcased the transformative power that we, as digital leaders, hold in our hands. The ethical considerations around AI added a layer of complexity to the narrative.

Innovation driving positive change:

  • Listening to Matthew Adam, Founder of We Are Group, share insights into tech-enabled solutions was a moment of pride for me for someone who considers themselves lucky to know Matt, JP (the MD) and the rest of the team really well. The emphasis on user-centred design and creating a seamless “one journey” for those in need highlighted how innovation can drive positive change efficiently, reducing costs and supporting community organisations. For me, while listening to Matt,  I reflected on how it really is time to stop the grant giving tick box CSR mentality that isn’t based on what works and does not drive the change required for inclusion.  Matt talks about a need to focus on “How” community programs are delivered not just the “what” and I couldn’t agree more Digital transformation and our leadership here is critical. Matt talks of “wel-tech” like Fintech to drive the change and the We Are platform “powered by tech, managed by humans” to enable “rapid prevention and intervention” to stop people also dropping out of the current fragmented services and the support they need. Matt went on to describe We Are Groups work here and the new and unique Wel-Tech platform they are building with 50 organisations and thought leaders as part of an Impact Council.  If we look at charities alone with almost 1M trustees, 8M volunteers spending £7B a year I pondered, are we all doing what we can as digital leaders to drive out costs, support the sector more and improve social impact?

The critical role of governance:

  • Being part of the panel discussion with Alexandra Birtles, David Mortimer, and Chris Quickfall was a moment of fulfilment. Emphasising the critical role of governance in tech startups’ growth and risk mitigation highlighted the need for the responsible deployment of technology—an essential aspect of digital leadership. Chris talked about G being part of the glue for ethical culture. David talked around this being one of the areas the UK was great at compared to international countries. Also the ‘G’ being essential and that the skills need to be all the way from the top at board level.  The ongoing AI dilemma further underscored the importance of robust governance frameworks and Alex reminded me of what a brilliant and at the same time practical mindset she has by ensuring that the required metrics come off the backlog and are positioned front and foremost in the dashboard, regardless of whether they have the data yet in order to ensure the team keep true to their measurement aims. The panel also discussed, walking the talk KPIs and examples of ensuring minimum living standards and fair employee contracts are evident as part of measurement. This also included fair ethics relative to size of company including the need for the clients, no matter how big to be ethical, especially for SMEs and the ability to pay bills within reasonable time frames being essential.   

Recognising Brilliance in ESG:

  • Closing the summit with Sue Johnston from Crowd Funder, a winner from March 2023, was a moment of recognition and celebration. Su’s emphasis on acknowledging brilliance in the ESG space underlined the importance of recognising outstanding contributions that fuel a culture of excellence and innovation. 


At the heart of Impact: The ACT, our wonderful conference host, Robin Knowles CEO Digital Leaders, warmly introduced me as the “ACT in impact” – after a career where I have tried desperately to ensure strategic impact outcomes,  advising organisations and leaders or as a volunteer campaigner or in a leadership role, this is a compliment that fills me with gratitude and I will never forget. 

I am truly thankful for the enriching insights gained and the privilege to advocate for ESG causes alongside such remarkable individuals. A heartfelt thank you to everyone who graced us with their presence during this fantastic afternoon.  I’m eagerly looking forward to our reunion in March for the Impact Awards Conference and Awards.

Lastly , thank you for reading this article and I encourage you all to cast your votes (link) – a small effort that takes just a minute but contributes significantly to raising awareness of the outstanding examples where both individuals and organisations are truly making a positive difference.

In the meantime, if there’s anything my team or I can assist you with in the realm of driving impact, please don’t hesitate to reach out. You can contact me directly at [email protected]

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