Social enterprise is good for business – Duncan Thorp

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 enterprise Brewgooder helps supply clean drinking water to more than 5,000 people in Malawi thanks to Asda customers.

Social enterprises are independent businesses that 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 £2 billion, ­ranging from community co-operatives to housing associations, enterprising charities and more.

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.

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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 development.

We recently published a booklet, Partnerships for Good, 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 working with Asda, Coop and Tesco, Shetland Soap ­Company with Northlink Ferries and Hey Girls with Waitrose are just a few examples. P4P, the specialist ­procurement programme, also helped Morrison Construction do business with Edinburgh Community Food and Forth Valley Community Focus CIC.

Social Enterprise Scotland is ­organising an upcoming event in Glasgow to build more of these ­partnerships. Social enterprises can book a stand and private sector ­colleagues can attend the The Social Enterprise Exchange Marketplace 2019 on 5 September at the Royal Concert Hall.

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 and charity fundraising. Developing these traditional activities into more innovative work should be a key objective for any enterprise.

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

We believe that social enterprise 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. What counts are positive outcomes for people and planet. Alongside our allies in the private sector social enterprises can lead the way.

Duncan Thorp, policy and ­communications manager, Social Enterprise Scotland.