There are now over 70,000 social enterprises in the UK, representing £24 billion in turnover and employing over a million people. But, like many start-ups, they can struggle to get access to big corporate customers that can be a valuable and stable source of income.
Social enterprises can offer high quality, competitively priced products and services that have a greater positive social or environmental impact than mainstream offerings. That’s because social enterprises often employ specific groups of people that have traditionally found it hard to access the jobs market, enhancing social mobility in Britain.
Purchasing from social enterprises is one way our firm can ‘do good by doing business’.
“What makes PwC stick out is the very, very diverse ways it supports social enterprises.”
“It’s really important to support social enterprises because staff want to know that we’re helping businesses that have a positive social or environmental impact.”
We’ve supported social enterprises for a long time through the PwC Social Entrepreneurs’ Club - offering mentoring, networking events, skills development and capacity-building support to almost 300 members of the club.
Last year, we joined the Buy Social Corporate Challenge as a founding member. Set up by Social Enterprise UK and the UK government’s Cabinet Office, Buy Social asks large businesses to collectively spend £1 billion with social enterprises by 2020, and challenges us to think about the social impact of our purchasing decisions.
We’re working to ensure that our procurement process can accommodate social enterprises, and have held events to share insights with social enterprises about working with large businesses.
We also encourage some first-tier suppliers to use social enterprises as part of their service delivery to us. This year, for example, we’ve worked with two social enterprises, Harry Specters and Miss Macaroon, to help them meet the standards required by our corporate merchandising supplier, so that our people can order ‘social’ products as corporate gifts. It also means that – as approved suppliers to our corporate merchandising supplier – the social enterprises now have access to a broad base of other corporate customers, too. We’ve also looked at other ways to use social enterprises: Harry Specters, an enterprise dedicated to producing chocolates that create employment for young people with autism, entertained at one of our client events with an interactive chocolate activity.
Our approach is to pilot social enterprise goods and services in one part of our business before rolling them out across the UK, allowing the social enterprises time to gradually familiarise themselves with our requirements.
For example, the handwash products we use in some of our client washroom facilities are supplied by social enterprise CLARITY - The Soap Co., who have successfully adapted their production site to employ people with a visual impairment. To document a recent visit there, we also used Mediorite, a video production company that seeks to provide training and opportunities for young people who would otherwise find it difficult to gain experience in this industry.
“If we buy products and services from social enterprises, we can create employment for those who find it hardest to access the jobs market – such as the homeless, ex-offenders, care leavers, the long-term unemployed or those with disabilities. All have talent to offer and are willing to work hard, if given the opportunity and the right sort of support.”
Having a large business customer like PwC provides social enterprises with a stable revenue stream and a platform for growth, giving their employees steady employment, a community and greater purpose.
As a firm, ‘buying social’ complements our community affairs programme, and fits with our commitment to encourage social mobility - supporting groups in society that are at risk of being marginalised. By improving their life chances, Buy Social helps create a more equitable and inclusive Britain, with many knock-on effects such as reduced crime rates, lower healthcare costs, greater prosperity and a stronger economy.