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Women's voices lead push for better business

The International Women’s Day theme, ‘Choose to Challenge’ and recent events in the UK have brought into focus many women’s voices leading calls for changes to existing structures and systems. Women leaders have long been instrumental in the push for positive progression across many movements. The push for our economic structures to prioritise social value is one such movement. At our Social Procurement Festival last week, almost 200 attendees heard from women representing large private businesses, the public sector, policy makers and social enterprises about how they were creating social value through their purchasing power.

The Social Procurement Festival by Supply Change, aimed to bring together individuals from all parts of the UK’s economic structure, to learn, share and create connections that would lead organisations to create social impact by embedding social enterprise in their supply chains. Although organised for the same week as International Women’s Day, our women-led team hadn't set out to create a speaker line-up dominated by women, says Supply Change CEO, Beth Pilgrim.

“When planning the festival we didn't intend to create a predominantly women led festival but it just so happened that many of the voices leading the push for social procurement are coming from women. It was even more fitting that our event fell within the week of International Women's Day. We're proud to work alongside so many inspiring figures leading the way for real change.”

The event culminated in an all-women panel discussion on ‘The Future of Social Procurement’. The CEOs, Managing Directors and Heads of Departments involved in the discussion were keen to highlight the need to challenge organisations who were not pushing positive change forward. Natalie Campbell, co-CEO of Belu, a social enterprise and business water supplier, called out those businesses who make excuses for not prioritising social value;

“I still hear a lot of people saying ‘it’s really complicated to get social value aligned with the way that we purchase’ and I’m going to say it’s BS. If the motivation and the will is there, then you can make it happen.”

Natalie Campbell, co-CEO of Belu Water

Similarly, Catherine Manning, interim CEO of Social Value UK highlighted the need for greater scrutiny of what ‘good’ is delivered by businesses;

"We need to agree collectively what a 'good company' looks like. There is a focus on GDP but does this equate to us actually having better lives? … If there are claims being made up front and then not being checked. It undermines the movement."

On the buyer’s side, Helen Moore, MD of Orbit Homes, a large housing association, indicated that not only was the desire for social value in procurement growing, but that the business case for it is already being demonstrated;

"It's not about having a warm fluffy moment. It's good for business too... We spent £15million with social suppliers last year and that's increasing all the time."

Another large buyer represented was national infrastructure company, Amey. Head of Social Impact, Emily Davies reinforced the argument that social enterprises can deliver social value on top of excellent and competitive service.

"We found that they [social enterprise stationery suppliers, Ethstat] were able to be really agile and do more than just deliver."

The event also facilitated networking and pitching; putting social entrepreneurs ‘at the table’ with buyers motivated by social value. Women leaders were prevalent amongst the enterprises pitching their services and impact. This is unsurprising when you look at the stats for social enterprise; according to Social Enterprise UK, 40% of social enterprises are led by women, more than twice as many compared to all UK SMEs and two in five have a majority female workforce.

Earlier in the day, three of these women shared how they had successfully created supplier relationships with big businesses. Nureen Glaves, founder of Feed Me Good CIC, has worked with organisations ranging from IKEA to Camden Council. The audience learned how providing health and wellbeing services has enabled them to deliver multiple layers of impact including providing thousands of meals to disadvantaged communities during the pandemic and accredited training for parents. Anna Ware, Director of Clear Voice Interpreting, has overseen efforts to meet a huge increase in demand for their services since taking charge in 2018. Clear Voice now has turnover of £2.5 million with all profits going to their parent charity, Migrant Help. Kasia Cheng shared how contracts with large private businesses EY, PWC and SAP was allowing Nemi Teas to scale their support for refugees.

Anna Ware, Director of Clear Voice Interpreting

The social enterprise sector has been bolstered by recent changes in policy. Last year, the government made evaluating social value in public sector contracts a necessity rather than just a suggestion. Women like Claire Dove, Crown Representative for VCSEs, have been integral in pushing for these changes. At the event’s policy talk and Q&A, Samantha Butler, Head of Social Value Skills and Engagement at the Cabinet Office and Rachel Woolliscroft, Director of Baynel Advisory, exhibited how sharing knowledge can support others to make their own impactful changes.

The festival itself was a testament to commitment by big business to delivering social value to communities. It was made possible by three large housing associations, Durkan, Peabody and Sovereign. Andrea Purslow, Business Development Manager at Peabody and Deborah Williams, Social Impact Manager at Sovereign both took the opportunity to share their work in the field and encourage others along a social procurement journey. Kevin O’Connor, Head of Social Responsibility and Inclusion at Durkan spoke of a way forward that brought into the fold VCSEs including Supply Change and was one of the more vocal supporters in the online chat.

One message repeated across all the discussions was that organisations placing greater value on social and environmental impact are leading inevitable change, whilst organisations that drag their feet, will eventually be left behind. Appropriately, one of the final points of the day, made by Natalie Campbell was an observation about the broader shift in expectations from individuals when engaging with a business;

“We are in a world now that people are not standing for companies that negate their responsibility to the environment by saying we have a commitment for the year 2050… It’s 2021 people! I don’t think people will continue to buy from businesses that don’t treat their employees fairly, that don’t look after the communities that they operate in and equally the communities of customers they sell in. Despite the closing of hospitality businesses over the last year, the phone has been ringing off the hook for our filtration services because people see that we tick a lot of the boxes when it comes to a fully-rounded, sustainable proposition.”


Supply Change helps public and private buyers find quality suppliers that increase the social value of their procurement spend. If you are interested in social procurement contact


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