Monday, 14 November 2011

Social Enterprise Summit: the challenge of engaging the private sector

From left to right: Paul Drechsler, Wates, Allison Ogden-Newton, SEL, and David Mills,
Guardian social enterprise network. Photograph: Felix Clay
In todays Guardian Social Enterprise Network forum Claudia Cahalane writes, The CEO of a major corporation which has worked with 32 social enterprises said on Wednesday that the sector is not visible enough to private companies.

Speaking at the Guardian Social Enterprise Summit, Paul Drechsler, head of construction company Wates, said he thought it made sense to work with social enterprises but he had underestimated how much effort would be needed to find them. In the 'How to get corporate organisations to engage with social enterprise' session, Drechsler said: "Two years ago, we put together a small, dedicated team to look at how we could engage but I was surprised that finding social enterprises would be the biggest challenge.

"We have had two people working full-time to research the social enterprise market and we have now contracted social enterprises on 100 projects," said the CEO, whose company turns over £100 million a year. "But less than one per cent of our spend is with social enterprises and if we want to scale that up it has to be easier to find social enterprises."

CEO of Social Enterprise London, Allison Ogden-Newton, said there needed to be an easier access point for corporates wanting to work with the sector. "Perhaps through one of the representative agencies of private companies," she suggested.

Speakers said that "getting in through the CSR door" could be a positive move but Ogden-Newton reminded delegates that some private companies would not be interested in social value.

"The message around social impact can be quite limited," she said. "If a company is ordering toilet rolls or handwash from one of our members, they often just want the right price. But it's good if you can get the CSR people to talk to the commercial procurement people and then you can tick several boxes with one gesture."

Nick Temple, director of business at Social Enterprise UK, was also on the panel. "Talk to them about how you can increase staff retention rates and reduce their costs," he said. "Working with a private company requires investment on both sides but the corporate sector is taking social enterprise seriously. Microsoft has a director of social enterprise, which demonstrates the commitment out there."

Peter Cousins, founder of Brighter Futures Workshop, which won the Guardian Social Enterprise Award on Wednesday, said he was struggling to get private sector interest.

"We have worked hard to enhance our profile and have won several big awards but we still haven't got corporate interest," he told delegates.

1 comment:

  1. Allison, I was just commenting on that Guardian article as one of the social enterprise that can't be found.

    I didn't know about Microsoft. This is interesting for me in that we'd engaged with the Kharkiv National University in Ukraine on our proposal to set up a social enterprise innovation centre there. In the news last year I discovered that this university had become the location of a Microsoft innovation centre. As a software developer I'm a Microsoft partner and on their partner network raised the question as to whether we might collaborate.

    Just went back to check, there's still no answer.