Creating social value through your supply chain is becoming common practice for all kinds of organisations the world over. Women working in private companies, the public sector, social enterprise support organisations and social enterprises themselves have long been leading this change in attitude and approach to business. As a female-founded company in procurement, Supply Change is celebrating International Women’s Day by asking some of the women working to progress the social procurement movement around the globe about their experiences, challenges and hopes for the future of the movement.
The example being set by infrastructure and housing sectors in the UK
Elise John-Lewis has recently joined Clarion Housing Group as the Community and Social Impact lead for Latimer Development. Having worked to progress London City Airport’s sustainability and community objectives, Elise was pleased to join an organisation with similar values and commitment.
“During my time at London City Airport I played a key role in the development of their new sustainability strategy and I was fortunate to be pushing on an open door with this piece of work. My deliverables are similar at Latimer Development and I’m pleased to say the attitude has been the same.”
As the UK’s largest housing association, Clarion has the ability to deliver impact at scale and throughout the lifecycle of their development-led schemes. Elise recognises the impact this is already having as well as the potential for opportunity.
“It has been so heartening to see the breadth of activity and support delivered by the Group to our residents and wider communities. We have a unique opportunity to drive and evidence true social value creation via business activities such as procurement. The built environment makes for an incredible learning opportunity for STEM subjects and many of the programmes I have devised have also enabled skills development to prepare young people for employment.”
Clarion Housing Group is aiming to invest £150 million in their communities over the next decade with a £1 billion return in social value. Elise points out that collaboration with others in the sector and intermediaries like Supply Change is a key part of this investment. Whilst Elise recognises the work being done within Clarion, she hopes that an example is being set to be adopted by the wider economy and other industries.
“My hopes for my work, CSR and sustainability more broadly is that it becomes a mainstream priority and qualitative supporting evidence and statements are appreciated not only within public sector led procurement contracts but all contracts. Collaboration with peers also plays a key part when leading change such as this. Clarion Housing Group are currently working alongside four housing associations and sector specialists Supply Change. This is allowing us to share best practice and evolve our approach to social procurement.”
How Australia are creating a social enterprise-friendly environment
“I think I’ve seen more interest in people wanting to start-up a social enterprise on the back of social procurement policy, than I have in over a decade of working in the field.”
Nina Yousefpour is the Social Enterprise Certification Manager at Social Traders, Australia’s national certification of social enterprises. Nina sees how a combination of government policy and social enterprise support structures are not just helping grow existing enterprises but creating fertile ground for new ones.
“When you have policy that creates an environment where it can be advantageous to operate as a social enterprise, a lot of interest is generated in the model.”
Advocacy forms an important part of the work Social Traders do and as much as ground has been gained in supportive policies, Nina highlights the need to always be pushing for improvement and review in a constantly changing field.
“There’s a huge ongoing advocacy effort that an organisation like Social Traders engages in to continue the conversation around how practices can change to better support the generation of social impact through social enterprise and procurement. At the moment we still need to think beyond the basic principles of supply and demand until the field has matured.”
Like Elise, Nina hopes to see social value objectives in business become the norm but realises the magnitude of work to be done, not just for those new to social enterprise but for the enterprises themselves.
“I hope that more people will know what social procurement means! There’s a lot of misunderstanding as to what social enterprise is and isn’t. I hope social impact language coupled with intentions will be widely adopted, in procurement but also generally in business. I hope more social enterprises will find their power when negotiating contracts and ultimately help social procurement champions on the buyer side, their businesses and all of us really, get closer to the realities on the ground that social enterprises deal with every day. Connection to social issues helps move along change.”
Using experience on both sides of the contracts (and the atlantic) to sell social enterprise in Canada
Director of Buy Social Canada, Elizabeth Chick, advances and promotes social procurement by bringing socially driven purchasers and suppliers together but it’s Elizabeth’s experience working with UK social enterprises that drives her work.
“Working at a social enterprise was useful in terms of understanding the impacts social enterprises truly have and the power behind those stories. I experienced first-hand the impacts social enterprises can have on employees and communities, and I’m driven to share that with buyers.”
The social procurement movement is a global one and connections across the planet have meant Elizabeth can share learnings from developments in Canada while gleaning insights from those in the UK, US, Australia, and New Zealand.
“In the UK the Social Value Act and updates this year are an example of legislative power and impact that other countries can look to, while in Canada the development of Community Benefit Agreement policies and initiatives such as the Federal Community Employment Benefit Initiative and the City of Vancouver’s Community Benefit Agreement Policy are harnessing the potential benefits of infrastructure and development projects.”
Learning from other economies and governments is especially useful when there is a single factor that has affected them all. In the wake of COVID-19 Elizabeth sees opportunity for policy to be backed up by the efforts to ‘Build Back Better.’
“COVID-19 recovery spending includes large amounts of investment in infrastructure. Leveraging community benefits on these projects is a huge opportunity. Alongside policy comes implementation and I think both the UK and Canada have examples of local community organizing and local government implementing social procurement effectively.”
For the movement to fully take hold, Elizabeth believes that a different approach needs to be in the buyer’s mind from the outset.
“I hope that social procurement is recognized as being central to the shift we need to make in the values we focus on in the marketplace. That shift is from the question “what is the lowest price we can pay?” to “what is the best value we can achieve for our communities through the things that we buy?””
Overcoming challenges for buyers and suppliers in New Zealand’s social procurement field
Supplier Lead and Social Procurement Advisor at Ākina, Julie Youngman, works with over 100 social enterprises right across Aotearoa-New Zealand. As well as making social enterprise more visible, Julie is working to gain insights about the social enterprise supply market in New Zealand. Julie’s position gives her the advantage of seeing what challenges exist on both the buyer and supplier side so that they can be overcome collaboratively.
“Working with social enterprises that work B2B has been eye-opening. It is amazing to see how many capable social enterprise suppliers are out there, in many different sectors. Some of the challenges I see in the implementation of social procurement on the buyer side are impact measurement; raising understanding of the concept itself internally, embedding social procurement considerations into internal processes and finding social enterprise suppliers. On the supplier side, it is capability building, both on the impact and the business side of the enterprise. Effective impact reporting to buyers relies on the social enterprises having robust indicators to measure, analyse and gain insights from. On the business side, the challenges are understanding procurement processes, being able to find the "right" person within buying organisations to talk to and identifying opportunities.”
Julie has seen how if these challenges are met, the rewards of securing a contract can be pivotal for a social enterprise.
“One social procurement contract with a large corporate allowed a social enterprise supplier to grow the number of their employees by 100%, which shows the power of having access to the B2B market, with one contract having such a big impact, not only on the size of the enterprise but also allowing them to amplify their impact activity.”
Julie shares the hopes that the social procurement movement becomes more widely adopted and has seen how 3rd parties have a big role to play in progress.
“I hope social procurement will be procurement; that maximising social, environmental and cultural impact will be a normal consideration alongside other procurement considerations, such as price, quality and risk. Intermediaries have an important role to play, in building datasets to gain insights into the size, capability and capacity of the social enterprise supply market, identifying opportunities through working with buyers and suppliers simultaneously and connecting suppliers and buyers. Intermediaries play the role of the independent voice and independent facilitator/connector/certifier to mitigate risk, make social enterprises more visible, surface opportunities, help with impact measurement and much more.”
Supply Change is a female founded social enterprise shortlisted by Natwest 2 years in a row as a top 100 social enterprise in the UK. We connect organisations looking for goods and services with social enterprise suppliers who can deliver quality and a positive impact. We do this through our platform of pre-vetted social enterprises and social procurement services, including spend analysis, impact assessment and events.
Interested in incorporating social suppliers into your organisations supply chain? Find out how we can help. Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org