How to get a foot on the supply chain?

What can be done to help social enterprises become part of the supply chain of larger organisations?

Discussion feedback taken from SEEE's A Conversation with Social Enterprise event on Friday 23rd October at the Future Business Centre in Cambridge.


One of the most obvious ways that social enterprise can get on the footing of the supply chain is through the procurement regime and this relates to the development of the Social Value Act and the need for training with procurement officers.  The Social Value Act in a sense should almost be able to offer the opportunity for social enterprises to be able to differentiate themselves from their 'for profit' counterparts.  There is also a definite need amongst procurement officers for the Act to be seen as more than just a simple tick box exercise.  There is a requirement to have the opportunity to put the argument across to those awarding bodies that it is a worthwhile venture to involve social enterprise in their supply chain and embedding social enterprises in their supply will asssit with their CSR.  We should be sending a strong message that it does good further up the chain and it has a positive reflection on the awarding body.


A couple of other things we noted were the need for social enterprise to have the opportunity to get out and just attend events such as supply chain events. Nicky Stevenson mentioned that she had recently attended a supplier event hosted by Balfour Beatty who was looking to promote the word about getting social enterprise involved in their supply chain and the supply chain of their suppliers.


Social enterprises need to develop the confidence to go out there and put themselves out for these sorts of opportunities such as networking opportunities and supply chain events and exhibitions to know where business opportunities will arise.


Within social enterprises potentially, there is a culture change, certainly, for some organisations to be seen as more commercial, obviously not for profit entities need to be profitable that goes without saying but I think there is a shift in the mind-set for social enterprises to be viewed as being able to compete against other 'for profit' entities.


Investment is still a stumbling block for social enterprises to be able to scale up activities in order to play with the big boys for commercial contracts.  Making other bodies aware of what social enterprises do, the types of investment they are able to receive, how that will give them the opportunities to reach economies of scale and branch out with what they are delivering will also assist the sector secure additional business.


We also noted the need for ongoing support for these organisations.  It does not just end when they have been awarded the tender or contract. Greater collaboration between social organisations such as the sharing of back office functions , sharing models of best practice for delivery of services could improve the secotr's ability to remain sustainable.


We questioned whether there are possible opportunities through wider branding of social enterprises? We were thinking in particular of the recent edition of B corps coming across from the states - that badge of being able to hold yourself out as having a higher ethical standard.  Social enterprises should capitalise on this going forward. But I guess the stumbling block for the sector as a whole is still this greater awareness of what is a social enterprise for those outside of the sector and a recognition of what a social enterprise is that those in the 'for profit' sector understand and take on board.