Creating a social procurement strategy may seem like a complicated and daunting task, particularly in large organisations which have complex supply chains and procurement processes.
Speaking from experience is Sam Scharf, Director of Community Investment at Orbit Group — one of the largest housing providers in the UK — and he doesn’t disagree with this notion entirely. We chatted to him recently about Orbit’s social procurement journey and how they’ve got to where they are today.
We asked Sam how organisations can enable this shift in thinking so that social procurement is placed at the heart of buying decisions.
He talked us through six key steps which Orbit has employed over six years on their journey to social procurement, specifically around incorporating verified social enterprises into supply chains:
1. Recognise it takes time
On this first point, it’s important to remember that social procurement is a journey. One that takes time and will need revising along the way.
“We have taken small steps, big steps, we’ve stopped, we’ve pivoted, we’ve tested, we researched… and it’s still tricky”, says Sam, pointing out that the process won’t always be easy, but that it “doesn’t mean it’s not possible”.
Understand that you will need to dedicate time to test out what works for your own organisation and implement your strategy in stages.
2. Understand it’s more than social value
Sam highlights the need to make the distinction between social procurement and social value commitments. An organisation’s social value commitments will include things such as the number of apprenticeships or work placements it provides and the social value weightings in its contracts (as required by the Social Value Act). Whilst undoubtedly helping to contribute towards these commitments, social procurement must be seen as something separate in order to realise its full potential, by dedicating the energy required to make it work.
Opening your supply chain to social enterprises is much more about getting the “confidence and energy in your procurement team” and helping to ensure they feel like it’s part of their day job, says Sam. When it’s seen in this light it is most likely that social enterprises will be embedded in an organisation and become part of its ecosystem.
3. Work with the procurement grain
Following on from the last point, it’s essential that you take the time to listen to and understand your procurement team, who are crucial in making your strategy work.
“Too often we’ve tried to come in from the side,” says Sam, acknowledging the necessity of working with those in procurement, rather than alongside them.
It’s essential that you consider what your procurement team is uncertain or nervous about in terms of how it relates to their jobs: things like risk, finance and compliance. In recognising their concerns, you can help to address them. Be careful not to assume they will want to do it purely on the basis of being a good thing to do. You need to help break perceptions and answer questions they might have. For example, ‘won’t it be more expensive to buy from social enterprises?’
“It’s also important to ensure due diligence”, says Sam, to make sure that social suppliers do what they say they do and can deliver. (This is something we help businesses with at Supply Change. More info on that can be found here).
4. Procurement may hold the strategy, but they’re not on the ground
Although your procurement team owns the strategy itself, it’s contract managers that are implementing the strategy on the ground. Putting in the time and convincing contract managers also needs to be done alongside procurement teams, to ensure seamless integration of social enterprises in supply chains.
5. Do your research
This is about understanding where social enterprises are able to deliver. Be realistic about where in your supply chain they can fit in.
“You can do this proactively, you can lock contracts. There are no procurement rules that prevent us from working with social enterprises”, says Sam.
6. Make it happen
Lastly, make it happen and start introducing social enterprises into your supply chain. This is when it really started to work for Orbit, according to Sam.
“We started off by introducing one or two and we now work with 15–20 social enterprises,” he says.
Start with small spend and then grow from there.
Importantly, though acknowledging the cliche, “seeing is believing”, says Sam. Once people within your organisation can see the kind of impact that social enterprises have — from providing opportunities to those most marginalised from the workforce to supporting communities and protecting our environment — they will be invested in making your social procurement strategy work.
Delivering a successful social procurement strategy brings to life the social and environmental impact often only seen in a small corner of organisations. This allows both additionality of impact in the business and impact that is available for everyone to build in their teams.
If you’re looking to start your procurement journey, Supply Change offers a free assessment consultation with a member of the team. In this initial chat, we’ll review your organisation’s existing spending, policies and procedures and assess what stage you’re at in your journey. We can then help you to establish the next steps needed to embed social suppliers into your supply chain and create a bespoke programme of support to get you there.
Arrange a time for your social procurement assessment here.