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Business and impact leaders explain how all organisations can create positive change

At the Social Procurement Festival, leaders of business, sustainability, policy and social impact convened to discuss and share insights on how to deliver meaningful change through their organisations. The focus was on creating impactful and inclusive supply chains but much of the guidance on how to create positive change in procurement systems can be applied to the wider systems that organisations operate in.

Speakers were quick to identify a widespread change in attitudes had pushed sustainability and inequality up the business agenda. “We’ve really noticed over the last couple of years a greater recognition of the need for socially and environmentally focused decision-making” said Catherine Manning, COO of Social Value UK. But it’s also clear that many organisations just don’t know how to achieve the change they want to see.


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Here we look at themes and practices for creating change, as highlighted by those already leading the way in creating sustainable and impactful businesses.

Collaboration is the key

"Collaborative not competitive" was the message of Cathy Brown, CEO of Initiative for Social Entrepreneurs, when asked about how intermediaries can better support social enterprises. This was just one of many instances where the Social Procurement Festival’s theme of ‘collaboration’ was echoed by speakers.

Without collaboration, all the following guidance is near impossible to achieve. Much of the knowledge and resources needed to deliver impact and a strong business exist but they do not exist entirely in one organisation, or even one sector. That’s why it’s important to not only look at the outcomes you want to achieve but also who else shares your aims. Josh Babarinde, Head of Entrepreneurship Delivery at the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) highlighted the power that organisations like SSE have to convene their networks and allow for connections to be made.

Attendees of the Social Procurement Festival heard from experts on a variety of impact and sustainability topics

Leadership must come from the top

Sandra Kerr, Race Equality Director at Business in the Community, walked attendees through the action-focused ‘Race At Work Charter’. Point 1 of 7 of the charter is “Appoint an Executive Sponsor for race.” Kerr explained that for effective change to happen you need someone who can drive action, set targets and can brief those whose work it will be to implement better systems and this applies to creating any big change and not just anti-racism work.

It isn’t just leaders within an organisation that need to be pushing for change but also the leaders whose actions impact entire systems. Fenella Chambers, a Senior Associate at Hogan Lovells, spoke of the impact of the ‘Procurement Policy Note 06/20’ and how it influenced the priorities of not just Hogan Lovells but their entire network, "PPN brought together parts of the firm like I haven’t seen before. All teams could see the importance to their clients."

Education paves the way

"You need the weight of the people behind you. That's what changes things" said Fflur Lawton, Head of Public Affairs at Smart Energy GB, whilst explaining the need for education to make procurement more sustainable. The importance of education was highlighted in many discussions as speakers agreed that for staff to enact change, they need to understand how to implement it and the impact that they can create.

Responding to the question ‘how can the private sector work better with academia to supercharge the social procurement movement?’, social procurement researcher Dr Leila Alinaghian also encouraged those delivering change now to empower those continuing their work in the future; “It’s important to bring companies into the classroom to inspire and educate the next generation.”

Build capacity of impact-driven businesses by spending with them

“There is a huge untapped potential in market-building for social enterprises” stated

Supply Change CEO, Beth Pilgrim, as she and fellow panellists shared how businesses can spend more with mission-led organisations so that they can grow their enterprise and in turn help buyers achieve sustainability and social value.

The demand for suppliers who can deliver social and environmental value is there, especially in the built environment but as Rob Walton, COO of Constructionline noted “The big challenge for the industry is to get the social enterprises into places where we can source them.”


Social enterprise suppliers can now get free Constructionline Gold Membership

when they become a Supply Change Trusted Supplier.


Group sustainability manager for Kier, Sheryl Moore, promoted the use of intermediaries like Supply Change to help large companies spend more with social suppliers, “The biggest challenge is finding the social enterprises… we have over 12,000 suppliers but we need to have more VCSEs (voluntary, charitable and social enterprises), that’s where we’ve found it really helpful working with Supply Change.”

Diane Crowe, Head of Group Sustainability at Reconomy, promoted prioritising social enterprises when looking to engage new suppliers “One way to make sure we can overcome barriers to social procurement is centring social enterprises in events, especially Meet the buyer events."

Don't do nothing

"Doing nothing is not an option" was the message of James Adeleke when talking about creating diversity in the workforce. This message of urgency was echoed across many discussions with Andrew O'Brien talking about the "burning platform" that we all stand on when it comes to addressing climate change and social inequality.

What was made clear at the Social Procurement Festival is that we have the collective intention to improve the practices of our organisations and now we have the proven methods to do so. The first and maybe the most important step is to reach out to those who have led the way, to engage, learn and collaborate.


Talk to us about engaging more social enterprises in your supply chain, contact us here or find out more about our services here.

If you're a social business, co-op or B Corp and want to access more commercial opportunities, you can register interest in our support on our services for suppliers page.


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