Social enterprises are not a fad

6 December 2019

Creating jobs as well as keeping wealth and opportunities within local communities – the precedent set by social enterprises is one your business should follow

Social enterprises, which exist to create positive social and economic impacts, really are the future of business. It’s not a trend or a fad, and in the next five years they are expected to become as big as mainstream businesses. If you, or your company, is creating a social purpose and working with social enterprises now then you are setting a positive example within your industry. 

Many businesses already have a social agenda and do great work with charities and social causes, yet what sets social enterprises apart is that their social cause lies at the very heart of their organisation. They have a clear mission, representing the best that the business world can offer in terms of commerciality and innovation, while at the same time, see business as an opportunity to address global or local social issues that are facing the world today. 

In just about every sector of the economy, I see social enterprises that are operating, growing and thriving. Indeed, there are over 100,000 social enterprises in the UK, employing two million people and contributing £60bn to the UK economy, while also donating or reinvesting at least 50% of their profits directly into their social cause.

Although 42% of social enterprises are less than five years old, more than half have grown their turnover in the past 12 months and 76% are living-wage employers. 

In our world of supply management, the perception of value is changing as the concept of social procurement evolves. We can all see purpose-led procurement decisions becoming more and more prominent, with value transitioning from being monetary-focused to social. Further considerations are being made towards business purchasing decisions and who is impacted by these choices. 

As a procurement professional, when I buy from a social enterprise I am casting my vote for the type of world I want to live in – by choosing to spend money with a business that is giving something back. 

While working for Serco a few years ago, I led a procurement exercise where we switched our everyday office stationery supplier to WildHearts Office, whose profits are donated to the WildHearts Foundation, which works to address economic injustice in an efficient and credible way. It does this by spreading wealth across communities in need with innovative ideas like Micro Tyco loans and its StartHer programme, addressing period poverty. 

At Foodbuy, I introduced the concept of social procurement and led our work with Social Enterprise UK (SEUK). Foodbuy has an important role to play in the future sustainability of our planet – when we decide to buy social, we are helping to build a better world. That’s why earlier this year we joined SEUK’s Buy Social Corporate Challenge, which is backed by the government’s Inclusive Economy Unit, becoming the first organisation in the food and beverage and group procurement sector to sign up.

Leading the challenge, I could see we were already working with several effective social enterprises. For instance, Change Please, who provides meaningful employment to the homeless by retraining them as baristas, and Toast Ale, a social enterprise turning surplus, unwanted bread into an ‘award-winning craft beer’. Other social enterprises we have now started working with include Rubies in the Rubble, Miss Macaroon, Karma Drinks, Lemonaid/Charitea, Divine Chocolate, Belu and Life Water. 

At our business’s annual awards evening, The Foodbuys, I was recognised by my colleagues for the ‘Thinking Differently’ award, in recognition for my approach to social procurement and creating a social purpose for Foodbuy – in particular, challenging the company’s status quo by leading our work with social enterprises. 

Does your business have a social purpose? If not, I encourage you to act now, because there’s every chance your competitors already have. 

Laura Neville MCIPS is corporate services category manager and social value lead at Foodbuy UK & Ireland

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