Achieving a sustainable social impact through projects


Projects and project management for a sustainable social impact


By Reinhard Wagner

Munich, Germany


Projects are not a purpose in themselves. They require effort on the part of those involved and the deployment of – usually scarce – resources, and should therefore have a measurable impact. In some projects, this impact is primarily aimed at an economic benefit with a minimum of resource input or the avoidance of environmentally damaging consequences. In recent years, the social impact has increasingly become the focus of attention. ISO 26000:2010 defines social responsibility as follows: “Social responsibility is responsibility of an organization for the impacts of its decisions and activities on society and the environment, through transparent and ethical behaviour…” Of course, this also applies to projects. According to the standard, these should contribute to sustainable development and help to achieve one or more of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, taking into account the expectations of stakeholders. Sustainability refers, on the one hand, to the implementation of the projects or the handling of the people and resources involved in the project and, on the other hand, to the impact of the project in its social context. In the following, four examples will therefore show how the achievement of a sustainable social impact can be achieved by projects in practice. These should serve as inspiration and show a suitable path for the prevailing societal challenges. Certainly, these examples show only a small part of the repertoire that currently exists worldwide. However, these examples are often not familiar to everyone and are therefore to be brought “on stage” with this article.


Hackdays, sometimes also called ‘hackathons’, are an event frequently used in the programming scene to find novel approaches to solving challenges in an intensive competition lasting several days between different teams. At the end of the event, the solutions are presented and awards are given to the best of them. However, the event format is much more than just a co-creative competition. At the same time, it can be used as a form of learning to strengthen the readiness and capability for innovation within organizations as well as on the threshold from university education to professional life, respectively laying the foundation for the successful launch of a new business idea..

After the first positive experiences in 2020 during a virtual research conference of the International Project Management Association (IPMA) on the topic ‘Projects as Arena for Self-Organizing’, IPMA Hackdays will be held again in conjunction with the 10th IPMA Research Conference from June 19-21, 2022, in Belgrade (Serbia). This time the overall theme of the Research Conference is ‘Value co-creation in the project society’ and as a sub-theme the hackdays are themed ‘Hacking societal challenges in a co-creative way’. Up to six teams of students from the Western Balkans compete against each other and work on one of the following topics: a.) climate action; b.) circular economy; c.) community development; d.) smart cities and smart rural; e.) e-governance & public service; f.) digital solution fighting COVID-19; g.) projects in the area of Health Care; and h.) mobility solutions for a new era. The ambition of the IPMA Hackdays is not only the shared experience in the context of co-creative collaboration but also a specific sketch of a solution, a prototype or concept that allows to master a self-selected challenge from the overall list and is mature enough to be implemented. At the end of the competition, a group of distinguished judges will evaluate all the solutions presented based on their experience and predefined criteria and select a winning group. The IPMA Hackdays are scientifically monitored and, following the event, the teams are offered coaching to help them transfer the outlined solutions or prototypes into practice and thus achieve the most sustainable social impact possible. Not only through the process of joint learning and co-creative working, but also through the implementation of their solutions in society.

Similar projects also take place at universities, for example at the University of Applied Sciences in Augsburg, where I teach the subject of project management and specific projects are performed by the students. Here, concrete transfer projects are implemented with a social impact for a city or society on the topics of education, inclusion, mobility, digitalization of social services, urban gardening or sustainable waste treatment. This not only brings new learning for learners and teachers along with a transfer from the university to society, but also a tangible benefit…


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Editor’s note: This series of articles is by Reinhard Wagner, PMWJ honorary global advisor and former Chair of IPMA. The series aims to position projects and project management in the context of society as social activities performed by and for people. The focus is on a sustainable social impact, which is to be achieved through the projects, and less on the management of the projects and the immediate deliverables. At the same time, projects are to be positioned as a means of self-realization through which people can jointly work for their communities, the environment or society as a whole. The series is aimed at the global community of project management practitioners, researchers, and those interested in learning about current developments in the field of project activities in society and how to achieve sustainable social impact through this engagement.

How to cite this article: Wagner, R. (2022). Achieving a sustainable social impact through projects; Series on projects and project management for a sustainable social impact, PM World Journal, Vol. XI, Issue VI, June. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/220522-pmwj118-Jun2022-Wagner-achieving-a-sustainable-social-impact-through-projects-series4.pdf

About the Author

Reinhard Wagner



Reinhard Wagner has been active for more than 35 years in the field of project-related leadership, in such diverse sectors as Automotive, Engineering, and Consultancy, as well as various not-for-profit organizations. As Managing Director of Tiba Managementberatung GmbH, a leading PM Consultancy in Munich/Germany, he supports executives of industrial clients in transforming their companies towards a project-oriented, adaptive and sustainably successful organization. Reinhard Wagner has published 36 books as well as several hundred articles and blogposts in the field of project, program and project portfolio management. In more than 20 years of voluntary engagement he served the German Project Management Association (GPM) as well as the International Project Management Association (IPMA) in a range of leadership roles (including President and Chairman) and was granted for his international commitment with the Honorary Fellowship of IPMA and several of IPMA´s Member Associations. Reinhard is Senior Lecturer at the Alma Mater Europaea and is currently finishing his doctoral thesis on the topic of Project Society. He can be contacted via reinhard.wagner@tiba.de

To view other works by Reinhard Wagner, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at https://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/reinhard-wagner/