With 62% of customers wanting companies to take a stand on issues they are passionate about, businesses are becoming more purpose-driven than ever. Procurement is a great way for businesses to create positive change, by simply including the likes of social enterprises into the supply chain. But many social enterprises struggle with a lack of visibility and navigating the procurement process. London based Supply Change, who are on our Future 20 programme, have come up with an impressive solution to this, by connecting public sector buyers to social enterprises through their online platform.
We spoke to their team to find out more.
For those who don’t know, what is a social enterprise?
Social enterprises are businesses that deliver goods and services and make profits like any other business, but crucially they have a social or environmental mission at their heart. This might be a cafe helping to create employment opportunities for ex-offenders, or a befriending service reducing loneliness and isolation in elderly communities. Unlike charities, they are not reliant on donations, and reinvest their profits back into their social mission.
How did you come up with the idea for Supply Change?
We all met on the Year Here* Programme a post graduate course in social innovation and enterprise. During the programme we carried out a research project for Orbit Housing, exploring the main barriers faced by social enterprises when trying to access public sector supply chains. We found that many social enterprises struggled to gain visibility in front of public sector buyers. There was a gap in the market for an online platform to connect social enterprises to public sector buyers in a quick, easy and trusted way, so we decided to build that platform ourselves!
Over £280bn is currently spent by the public sector alone on goods and services. If we can capture just 1% of that market and redirect it towards social enterprises our potential for impact could be vast.
Why is social procurement so important?
Every purchase we make as individuals and organisations has an economic, social or environmental impact. Social procurement is the idea of harnessing the power of procurement to have a positive impact on people and planet. Public and private sector organisations have a responsibility to help the communities they operate in to thrive, and by choosing to procure goods and services with that in mind, their large spending power can be used as a force for good.
How does Supply Change help social enterprises?
Many social enterprises have said they found it difficult to navigate lengthy procurement processes and multiple online portals to find out about contract opportunities with potential customers. Our platform creates a profile for social enterprises to showcase their work and impact in one place, and enables buyers to search for them by location, trade and impact area. All social enterprises on the platform are also taken through an annual due diligence process by the Supply Change team, to assure buyers that they are verified and able to deliver a high quality service.
How do you find the social enterprises to include on your platform?
We recruit social enterprises in a number of ways through introductions from our network, events and online research. It is estimated that there are over 100,000 social enterprises in the UK and we want to be able to support as many as we can through the platform. If a social enterprise is interested in joining the platform they can sign up on our website
Social procurement is the idea of harnessing the power of procurement to have a positive impact on people and planet.
What do you hope to achieve over the next five years?
In five years’ time we would like to become the go-to place for public and private sector buyers to find social enterprises for their goods and services. We currently work with housing associations, councils and the construction industry, but we would love to expand into other areas of the public and private sectors. Over £280bn is currently spent by the public sector alone on goods and services. If we can capture just 1% of that market and redirect it towards social enterprises our potential for impact could be vast.
What has been a business highlight for you so far?
We’ve achieved a lot in a small space of time, but one of our biggest achievements has to be our partnership with Orbit Housing who have supported us from the beginning. Orbit have invested in Supply Change as part of their commitment to working with more social enterprises. Having the support of a well-known housing association has helped us to secure further funding and customers as well as being a great opportunity for us to test our product early on.
What has been challenging for Supply Change, and has being part of the Future 20 programme helped?
As we have now launched our platform – our main focus over the next few months is sales and reaching new customers. Future 20 has connected us to an industry mentor who is going to support us with our sales strategy and communicate our impact to customers. We are also considering raising further investment next year and Future 20 has helped with introductions to angel investors.
What’s on the horizon for Supply Change?
Over the next few months we are expanding our services outside of the Supply Change platform and starting to run networking events for social enterprises to meet buyers. We’re also offering bespoke consultancy services to organisations looking to improve their social procurement activity. Watch this space!
If you’re a buyer and want to align your values with the way you do business, or if you’re a social enterprise and want to connect to organisations looking to get more from their spend, then visit Supply Change’s website and see how you can make positive change through procurement.
* Year Here are a tenant at our Future Business Centre East London and help entrepreneurial people to build smart solutions to entrenched social problems.
The Future 20 programme is a bespoke incubator programme run by Allia Future Business Centre comprised of 20 of the very best UK tech for good and social ventures that are addressing the UN Sustainable Development Goals.