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Why relationships with corporates are so important to social enterprises

We're celebrating ten years of our PwC Foundation, our PwC Social Entrepreneurs Club and our London social enterprise hub, the Fire Station. As we reflect on our journey over the last ten years, we're proud to have partnered with the School for Social Entrepreneurs, benefitting from their extensive experience and insights as we've built our own programme of support for social entrepreneurs across the UK.

Below, the CEO of the School for Social Entrepreneurs, Alastair Wilson, shares his views on the importance and value of social enterprises building relationships with corporates and how these can bring significant and lasting benefits to both parties.

PwC is a leading force in the private sector when it comes to supporting social enterprises. Corporate relationships can bring huge value to social entrepreneurs, as corporates offer the scale and expertise to help their projects develop. But it’s not a one-way street – there are plenty of benefits to corporates when working in this sector, too.

The importance of procurement and trading

Procurement is one of the most effective ways for corporates to support social enterprises – while achieving CSR objectives through their purchasing power. The Buy Corporate Social Challenge, organised by Social Enterprise UK, has seen 27 corporates collectively spent almost £165m with social enterprises over five years.

Half of all social enterprises (49%) trade with the private sector, according to the latest research from Social Enterprise UK. It’s striking that social enterprises operating in the most deprived parts of the UK are more likely to trade with the private sector.

But social entrepreneurs, often running small and micro organisations, can require support to meet corporate needs. At the School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE), we run short courses specifically about working with corporates, and embed this learning into our longer support programmes too.

Sharing expertise and pro bono support

We at SSE are proud to have been part of PwC’s journey into working with social entrepreneurs since the early days. We’re a charity that helps 1,000+ people a year develop the skills, strengths and networks they need to tackle society’s biggest problems. In turn, they help 3.4 million people in need.

We’re been partnering with PwC for over a decade. Our partnership has included funding, but it’s much broader than that. Corporate relationships with social enterprises can work in lots of different ways – not just financial.

People working within corporates have expertise in certain aspects of running a business, which can be a lifeline for founders wearing multiple hats. For example, we connect social entrepreneurs on many of our programmes with corporate mentors to guide them with topics like accountancy, strategy and financial management.

Personal connections can blossom into deeper relationships. A number of PwC senior team-members have joined our board. Our chair of trustees is Richard Collier-Keywood, PwC’s former Global Vice-Chairman. Senior PwC team-members have also joined SSE as Social Partners – individuals who donate money and time to supporting social entrepreneurs. (Read more about being a Social Partner in this Q&A with Barry Marshall, who spent 34 years with PwC.)

Pro bono support can be invaluable for social enterprises, as they tend to reinvest financial surpluses for social or environmental benefit, so can’t necessarily afford professional services. For example, PwC have supported us with consultancy and research, developing our strategic initiatives. Since 2011, we’ve been located in the PwC Social Enterprise Hub, giving us affordable office space in the heart of London Bridge.

The learning is two-way

We also know, thanks to overwhelmingly positive feedback from our corporate supporters, that these relationships aren’t just about giving.

Being involved with mission-led projects can be hugely motivating for corporate teams. Employees develop their coaching skills through mentoring social entrepreneurs. Meanwhile, they’re gaining insights into a fast-growing sector with which they might otherwise be unfamiliar.

When PwC developed its Social Entrepreneurs Club, we were able to refer people we support to the club and promote it to our audiences, while advising on how it might best work.

Ultimately, corporates deepen their understanding of purpose-driven business by partnering with social entrepreneurs and with support organisations like us. Which all contributes to sustainability in long-term.

Alastair Wilson is the CEO of the School for Social Entrepreneurs.

Alastair Wilson, CEO of the School for Social Entrepreneurs

Alastair Wilson, CEO of the School for Social Entrepreneurs

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Maggie Robb

Maggie Robb

Regional Manager - Inclusion, Community & Wellbeing, PwC United Kingdom

David Adair

David Adair

Head of Community Engagement, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7764 988515

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