Building a Social Enterprise and Private Sector Alliance

Posted: 12 August 2019, in News

Building a social enterprise and private sector alliance

Social enterprise is at the forefront of a wider movement to build an
inclusive economy. It sits comfortably alongside the real living wage,
tax justice, fair trade, employee ownership, B Corps, the Scottish Business Pledge and other innovations.

Social enterprises
are independent businesses that have a specific mission to tackle a
social or environmental issue - and drive any profits back into their
mission. According to the most recent statistics there are around 5,600 in Scotland with an economic contribution of around £2bn, ranging from community co-operatives to housing associations, enterprising charities and more.

The Scottish Government has set out a vision to develop ‘inclusive
economic growth’. For them, this means an economy that combines
increased prosperity with equality and greater distribution of economic
opportunities. This is a perfect fit with the purpose of social

Social enterprise and private sector partnerships play a key part in
building this new, inclusive economy, where everyone benefits. But why
should private sector businesses engage with social enterprises? There
are a variety of reasons.

Firstly social failure is bad for business. Unemployment,
homelessness, drug addiction and other issues negatively impact on
businesses. People without work and opportunity don’t have money to
spend on goods and services. Social enterprises work at the frontline to
solve these social problems.

Private sector businesses should also engage with social enterprises
because they bring real benefit in terms of opening up new markets and
new business opportunities. Joint bids for public contracts and similar
partnership working are options too.

Businesses can contract social enterprises into their supply chains.
This could be a catering contract, graphic design, meeting space hire or
something else. It’s also about private sector employees volunteering
in social enterprises, in a skills exchange, for learning and personal

Whether a business is trading for a specific social purpose or making
efforts to avoid negative social impacts, access to information and
demand from consumers is increasingly important. This is certainly an
emerging area to achieve social enterprise growth.

Social Enterprise Scotland recently published a booklet highlighting a
range of existing case studies of this private-social innovation. The
brochure centred around three key areas of partnership work, namely
consumer demand, supply chains and contracting and procurement.

  • Brewgooder were the first social enterprise to receive a national listing with ASDA, with a mission to provide clean water and life to people in Malawi through the power of craft beer. This has enabled them to grow and increase their impact. The partnership with private sector businesses started at the beginning of their journey, as almost 1000 backers and 30 restaurants got on board to support them. Brewgooder also now works with the Coop and Tesco.
  • Hey Girls is already leading the way in innovation and discussions regarding period poverty. They worked on getting their sanitary products in Waitrose stores and elsewhere. To date Hey Girls has distributed 2.3 million products through its Buy One Give One model.
  • Similarly the Shetland Soap Company has been a key supplier to Northlink Ferries for the past 10 years, where in addition to supplying hygiene products and sandwiches through its catering business, Shetland Kitchen, their merchandise is available for customers in the on-board shop. Shetland Soap Company works alongside adults with learning disabilities.

Developing partnerships as part of the bidding process for the
private sector and social enterprise can be a daunting experience both
for large scale contractors and smaller organisations. It was against
this background that P4P (Partnership for Procurement) itself was

Through P4P, Morrison Construction was introduced to local charities Edinburgh

Community Food and Forth Valley Community Focus CIC. Both social
enterprises successfully qualified to become part of Morrison
Construction’s trusted supply chain, earning work with the company. Both
social enterprises invest money earned by their businesses back into
community development initiatives.

Certainly poor practices and behaviours exist in some parts of the
private sector but we do need to recognise the good that can happen
through philanthropy, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), employee
volunteering and charity fundraising. Developing these traditional
activities into more dynamic and innovative work should be a key
objective for any enterprise.

Specifically more strong, mutually beneficial relationships must be
built between social enterprises and private sector businesses. In this
way we can exchange skills and knowledge, positively influence
traditional business culture and build the kind of inclusive economy
that will benefit everyone.

Beyond this private sector businesses might actually consider
becoming social enterprises themselves. This is something that would
have a truly transformative impact on society.

Forging a different approach, one that invests primarily in the
community, is entirely possible. After business owners have put a roof
over their heads and provided enough for themselves and their families,
becoming a social business of some kind may be a logical next step.
Social enterprise is a natural fit for many ethical or family businesses

This is relatively easy for an SME but why not include big
corporations too? Even just having the conversation is a start. The idea
that Twitter should become a democratic co-operative, owned by its
users, was seriously debated not so long ago by the company’s
campaigning shareholders.

We believe that social enterprise, in all its forms, remains the best
model to delivery genuine wealth creation, a sustainable economy and a
more equal society. The most democratic and locally accountable ones are
the gold standard in many ways.

But it’s essential that we work in close partnership with private
sector friends who share the same values. We need to move away from the
old way of doing business and focus on building local, inclusive
economies. What counts is positive outcomes for people and planet.
Alongside our allies in the private sector social enterprises can lead
the way.

Duncan Thorp, Social Enterprise Scotland


Versions of this article appeared in:

The Scotsman on 09/08/19:

Third Force News (TFN) on 06/08/19:

P4P on 26/07/19: