The PwC procurement team’s drive to work with and advocate social enterprises has brought creativity and innovation to the business
Where an organisation spends its money counts. At PwC, procurement is leading the charge on making sure a proportion of spend goes to social enterprises. In 2017, the professional services firm spent £1.5m with more than 40 social enterprises, ranging from soap made by people with disabilities via The Soap Co to corporate communications videos filmed by Mediorite, an agency that offers creative training opportunities to marginalised young people. The largest amount is the £400,000 spent annually with Fruitful Office, a business that delivers fresh fruit to workplaces, says director of procurement Jeremy Willis.
In 2016, PwC signed up to Social Enterprise UK’s Buy Social Corporate Challenge, which asks companies to make a number of commitments, including raising awareness and training staff in working with social enterprises.
“There’s something very innovative and creative about this space,” Willis says. “Most people get into procurement for relationships and solving complex problems, and this ticks all those boxes.”
A supply chain audit revealed PwC already had an impressive number of social enterprises in its supply chain, but to make it easier to partner with the firm, Dragon’s Den-style events were introduced. These allowed teams of buyers to offer advice to small social enterprises on how to market themselves to corporates and overcome obstacles.
As procurement teams are often influencers rather than the end buyer, raising awareness internally has been key. “As we buy products we display branding and [information] cards to remind people [they are using products made by social enterprises],” says Willis, such as labels on soap dispensers. Other awareness raising activities have included Christmas Fairs and ‘Social Saturday’.
PwC has also taken a lead in advocating social enterprises externally. Willis recently hosted 18 other procurement leaders from large corporates at an event where social enterprises presented their products and services. “Part of the challenge in this space is that there aren’t that many corporate-ready suppliers, so you need to work with them to create opportunities in other businesses and help them scale with confidence,” he says.
Working with social enterprises brings a number of benefits, Willis believes. These include access to the innovation and creativity that comes with diversity and a “typically” low cost base. Also, as they tend to be smaller in scale, social enterprises highly value business from larger organisations, leading to a premium quality of service and goods.
But beyond that, it’s about doing the right thing. “If you could spend a dollar and create social value and a positive environmental impact, surely it’s a no brainer,” says Willis. “Sustainability is no longer a nice to have, it’s a must have. Large businesses have to do more to create a more diverse and inclusive society.”
Spreading the value
Creating social value is an area where procurement professionals should be collaborating across different organisations – even competitors, believes Willis. “It’s about sharing where we’ve had successes and being advocates [for social enterprises] with other organisations,” he says.
PwC holds events to bring buyers from various organisations and social enterprises together, and Willis is open to sharing information and documentation about the processes he’s put in place to work with social enterprises.
“No one sees this as a competitive space,” he points out. “It’s one of those agendas that is collegiate. It’s not about competitive advantage. I am looking to share.”