Let’s talk social enterprises - A Q&A with Neha Chandgothia

3 Apr 2019

This week we announced our partnership with Social Enterprise UK as part of the Buy Social Challenge. Here we talk to Neha Chandgothia at Social Enterprise UK on the reasons why working with social enterprises is better for everyone - the planet and the communities we live and work in.

What is Social Enterprise UK and what does it do? 

SEUK is the membership body for social enterprises – businesses which trade for a social purpose. There are over 100,000 social enterprises in the UK and they are set up to tackle some of the biggest problems we face from the rise in homelessness to climate change. SEUK works closely with private sector organisations and public bodies to help create markets for social enterprises in the UK and globally. We work with corporates mainly through the Buy Social Corporate Challenge. We also work with government bodies and public sector organisations. We carry out research into the size and impact of the sector and also run large scale public facing campaigns to encourage the public to use their spending power to support social enterprises.  

When did you start the Buy Social Challenge and why is it so important for businesses like ours to join in? 

The Buy Social Corporate Challenge was officially launched at Downing Street in April 2016. We started the Challenge to help build markets for social enterprises and to show that through working with them, companies can re-allocate some of their everyday spend in a way which transforms lives and improves communities. 

For businesses like Lendlease it is important to be a positive force in society. Being part of the Buy Social Corporate Challenge helps to achieve this through procurement. Central to the Challenge is the idea that money spent on social enterprises is money procurement teams will be spending anyway but through buying goods and services from social enterprises, businesses can use their procurement facility as a tool to build more sustainable world. 

What small changes can everyone make to have a more positive impact on the world? 

There’s a famous quote from an activist called Anna Lappe which states that “Every time you spend money, you're casting a vote for the kind of world you want.”

Everybody can use their spending power to support social enterprises and in doing so can create a ripple effect for society with every purchase supporting an organisation making the world a fairer place. Whatever you’re after there is probably a social enterprise selling it – you can buy coffee, soap, chocolates, clothing and even beer from a social enterprise. The soap you buy can create employment opportunities for people with disabilities or that next bottle of beer can fight food waste. 

A key part of the Corporate Challenge is to not only work with partners to embed social enterprises in company supply chains but to also empower employees that they too can make a difference through something as simple as switching who they spend their money with.  

Can social enterprises deliver in bulk, in the same way that larger big businesses can? 

Social enterprises have the capability of operating like any other small/medium sized business. In this sense they are no different to mainstream businesses in terms of their ability to deliver at scale. Some organisations can deliver in bulk while scaling further to deliver more whilst others are still in their initial phase looking to scale. The key thing is that social enterprises are businesses and can trade and deliver services in the same way as any mainstream business can. What sets them apart is that they are established to deliver on their social mission as well as making a profit. 

What do other businesses have to do to join the challenge? 

There is no pre-requisite to joining the Challenge. The commitment is to be able to spend on social enterprises through the help and facilitation provided by SEUK. For further details have a look at the Buy Social Corporate Challenge webpage. 

There are some barriers – including financial - to bringing on board new brands, what advise do you give people wanting to make the leap?

Systems/processes of procurement are hard to change for any organisation and social enterprises do not expect businesses to change these. What they do expect is a “seat at the table” to be able to explain the opportunity that they bring to your business. 

My key bit of advice to any business wanting to bring social enterprises on board, is to treat social enterprises like you would treat any other supplier, keeping in mind the added benefits that working with a social enterprise can bring to your organisation.

What is the most common myth when procuring a social enterprise?

There are many myths including a lower quality and higher price point. The Buy Social Corporate Challenge partners have found that the quality of social enterprise products and services are equal or better to their competitors. In terms of price point, social enterprises have competitive pricing to their commercial counterparts.