Social enterprises need to act fast in the face of growing social value consideration from their private sector contemporaries.
Social entrepreneur expert Liz Books-Allen says the private sector is wise to the components of the Social Value Act, and a window of opportunity exists for social enterprises to steal a march on public sector contracts.
Speaking to Bdaily ahead of her talk to Teesside University this week, Liz said: “It’s a lively sector, but one that needs to undergo considerable growth. The Social Value Act has the potential to deliver an opportunity for exponential growth for those social enterprises that are investment ready.
“However, private sector companies are hot on their heels, and they also realise they have a story to tell around social value if they’ve done really effective corporate social responsibility.
“And that’s not just ‘bolt-on’ CSR, but really embedded activities. We work with private companies as well as social enterprises who could just as easily tell the story of social impact.”
Liz is director of a company called The Connectives, which works with public, private, voluntary and social enterprise sectors, advising them on social, environmental and economic impact.
Her work with Teesside University looks at how the institution can make social enterprise a larger part of their activity; engaging outside of the university and developing internal social enterprise ideas.
“Our job is to talk about how social enterprise can be a different way of doing business that is absolutely about making profits, but how you can use those profits to achieve the optimum social benefit from that,” added Liz.
“It might be about looking at a group of NHS staff to spin-out ideas into social enterprises. Or it might be about supporting organisations that are very typically private in structure, and how they can strengthen and diversify their supply chain.
“It’s ultimately about realising that social enterprise is a more responsible form of capitalism. It’s still selling a product, but it’s using that product in an age where our traditional forms of capitalism haven’t necessarily worked. As we’re watching the public sector shrink, somebody needs to step into that space.”
Liz says the social enterprise offering is much more than just the products or services supplied, and the success of the sector is also dependent on the education of public sector commissioners.
“These commissioners need to understand what they’re going to get from a social enterprise - what exactly it is that they’re buying,” she added.
“They must realise that when they go out to procure public services, and especially since the Social Value Act has come into play, that there is an obligation on them to be thinking - what is the social, environmental and economic impact of their purchasing decision?”
Liz would love to see the social enterprise sector play a bigger part in the economy, and firmly believes that if enough people understand the concept, social entrepreneurs will be regarded in the same esteem as the captains of industry.
Her talk takes place on Thursday February 14 at Teesside University, and is part of a wider series aimed at supporting social enterprise.