The challenge of monetising social value

Shaun McCarthy
16 January 2020

Five years ago, I suspect the expression “social value” was not one regularly used by procurement professionals.

The UK government sought to change that by introducing the Social Value Act in 2010. This has led to public sector buyers needing to use their skills to implement this new requirement and the response from their private sector suppliers has driven the concept of social value down the supply chain.

I recently chaired an inspirational event in Manchester where a packed house heard speakers sharing some wonderful initiatives helping long-term unemployed people and ex-offenders to rehabilitate, learn new skills and get jobs. We should not underestimate how hard this is and my respect goes out to those who achieve such amazing results.

However, I would contend that there are many other aspects to social value. When I chaired the Commission for a Sustainable London 2012, an assurance body overseeing the London 2012 Olympic programme, one of my commissioners, Professor Stuart Green, came up with the concept of “a legacy of knowledge”. This eventually led to the London 2012 programme offering unprecedented transparency through the London 2012 Learning Legacy website. The Crossrail project followed this lead and I hope many more projects will share what they have learned with the world.

My own business, Action Sustainability, also has a social enterprise arm and our mission is to build the body of knowledge in sustainable procurement. When I finished a four-year stint leading the UK delegation in developing the ISO 20400 standard for sustainable procurement, I volunteered to work with my peers to build a global community of practice around sustainable procurement and the new standard. With the support of our international steering committee and thanks to the amazing efforts of our project manager, Carole Ann Smith, www.iso20400.org has been a huge success.

Our knowledge-sharing platform enables people to share what they have learned; we have case studies, e-learning, video, thought leadership pieces and much more. The site has been viewed in 155 countries, we have nearly 10,000 followers on LinkedIn and there have been over 40,000 views of our resources. For the web geeks, our average dwell time is impressive too at over 3.5 minutes. The content is available in a variety of languages and the structure of the site can be translated too.

We don’t want to stop at a nice website. We have added a self-assessment tool that enables you to answer 20 questions about your organisation that will give you an initial impression of how you align to the standard. This is available in a variety of languages too. We now have over 100 benchmarks so we can start to compare results by country, sector and size of business. Organisations can benchmark their status against their peers and track their progress through regular re-assessments. Not everybody can access good internet connections and not everybody wants to put their data online, so we developed a PDF version of the self-assessment that can be downloaded and used manually.

It is very hard to measure or monetise the social value of sharing knowledge, but ultimately if businesses and public bodies are going to make the world a better place, they must do so through their supply chains. Sharing sustainable procurement learning helps to make that happen.

Imagine a world where we share more freely what we have learned. As John Lennon said: “You may say I’m a dreamer – but I’m not the only one.”

☛ Shaun McCarthy is director of Action Sustainability

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