One of the most common and ongoing challenges for social entrepreneurs is how to meet potential clients - how to get in front of the right people, from the right organisations, to offer their services and share the incredible stories of the positive impact they’re making. With the current situation not permitting face-to-face meetings or in-person events, this can be even more difficult than usual. There are, however, ways to overcome this obstacle by - you guessed it - moving online.
On Thursday, 8th October Supply Change, together with Orbit Housing and Wates Group, hosted a virtual ‘Meet the Buyers’ event. Over 100 people attended from across sectors and all corners of the country, with social enterprises signing in from Porth to Aylesford. Here, social entrepreneurs were given the opportunity to pitch their offer to potential buyers and network around virtual tables in a digital space, complete with different rooms, floors and a virtual stage.
We kicked off the morning by inviting to the ‘stage’ our co-hosts, Wates and Orbit - two organisations committed to making a difference through their supply chains and who each have extensive experience of working with social enterprise suppliers.
Head of Community Investment at Orbit Group, Sam Scharf, shared some key learnings from his own journey with social procurement. This included the importance of listening to and working closely with your procurement team to understand and meet their needs, as well as acknowledging that the overall process takes time, pointing out that “generating impact isn’t always the path of least resistance.”
Su Pickerill, Community Investment Manager at Wates, spoke about how trading with organisations whose core purpose is to employ and train people furthest from the workforce or to protect the environment, Wates is able to use its procurement spend to invest in the communities they work in and, in turn, build a stronger legacy.
“We realised that social enterprises are more likely than other suppliers to have diverse leadership and enable us to access innovative thinking that makes our business stronger and more resilient,” she said.
Following on from a buyer’s perspective were two brilliant social suppliers - Ethical Stationery CIC (Ethstat) and Britain’s Bravest Manufacturing Company - who talked briefly about their respective social missions and what the work they have done with their current clients has helped them to achieve thus far.
Yasmin Halai-Carter, Co-founder of Ethstat - which provides stationery, PPE and other office supplies - spoke about the impact they’ve made supporting people sleeping rough and families caring for loved ones with dementia. She also touched on Ethstat’s emphasis on supporting UK manufacturing and their efforts to supply goods as close to the source of consumption as possible.
Managing Director of Britain’s Bravest Manufacturing Company, Kate Bull, gave a brief history of the social enterprise, part of Royal British Legion Industries which has been in existence since the end of the First World War to support veterans to return to civilian life. Of the 110 people Britain’s Bravest Manufacturing Co. employs, 70 are veterans with a disability or people with a disability from the local community. They work as part of a tight-knit team from their factory in Leatherhead where they produce top-quality signage and wooden products like pallets and boxes.
After hearing the inspiring stories from these social enterprises, the pitching sessions began. Social enterprises were given fifteen-minute slots to present and make connections with interested buyers. The buyers who attended, keen to make a positive difference with their procurement spend were: Amey, Clarion Housing Group, Durkan, East Sussex County Council Multiplex, Morgan Sindall, L&Q, Places for People, Wilmott Dixon, and Zurich (as well as Orbit and Wates).
The rest of the event allowed for networking time when attendees could hop freely from table to virtual table and chat with those who took their interest or to further discuss a business opportunity.
We received some great feedback from social enterprises who came to pitch and meet buyers that morning.
So while we continue to work remotely (now facing at least six more months of home working) we can’t let that stop these important introductions and conversations to take place. Innovative ways of online working are available to us and organisations are arguably more able than ever to use their spending power to do good as we are presented with the collective challenge to build back better from the pandemic.
Interested in hosting an online networking event to meet social suppliers? Get in touch with the team at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.