As a Partner at Shaftesbury Partnership, Chris Mould leads on overall strategy and corporate engagement of Social Business Partnership (SBP). Neo Christodoulou spoke to Chris to find out more about SBP and why it is in big companies’ own interest to change the status quo in procurement.
Neo: Why was SBP setup in the first place?
Chris: SBP was set up to connect big businesses, which spend large sums of money procuring all sorts of services and goods, with organisations that are brilliant at helping people who are distant from the labour market (people who have problems with mental health, learning disabilities, a disability of any form or a troubled background). For example, people coming out of prison need work, and if they are going to get work they need to be working with organisations that know how to work with them, understand their problems, that are able to sell their goods and services. So there’s a kind of brokerage waiting to happen and that’s the connection we’re looking for.
Neo: What is SBP asking of big companies?
Chris: It's asking them to choose social value and to choose greater social impact. It’s asking them questions about the additional contribution they can make. And its self-interest because if you're a big organisation, global perhaps, you want stable economies with societies that are filled with hope and have the minimum amount of offending behaviour and mental health problems and so on. It's a virtuous cycle, you want people working so that they have the resources to pay taxes and buy your goods. Moreover we’re asking them to take the step of faith which is to believe us when we say we can give them the same quality that they’re used to at no extra cost, but with the added value of making a significant positive social impact.
Neo: You’ve touched on what is in it for the corporate customer, but what is preventing them from jumping on board?
Chris: It is a challenge to people who have spent their careers developing their understanding of how you go for scale, how you go for large contract spend, how you simplify, and we’re talking about the advantages of working with a multiplicity of organisations, at lower volume. And that requires some restructuring of their policies their procedures, their thinking. That’s why it is so important that we connect with businesses that have got clear values about contributing to communities, about making a positive difference using their scale for good. And we want people who have gone through that first iteration of thinking and have come to the conclusion that they ought to be doing that.
Neo: What is the business case for the companies to use SBP?
Chris: The business case for using SBP is that we have the expertise and we do the work for them. The primary promise we make is that this social enterprise that you are going to be introduced to will deliver the service you need to your specifications, to the right level of quality and at an acceptable price. You may not know these suppliers if you haven’t worked in that field and because your procurement processes and policies drive you towards bundling contracts and using large scale suppliers. As you do that you reduce your social impact. So we’re asking you to go in the other direction.
Neo: What challenges does SBP face?
Chris: A challenge is that we need a number of corporate members who are serious. Once we have that minimum critical mass (5 or 6 organisations) we really will be seeing SBP taking off in a different way. It’s about leveraging the scale and the opportunity that you’ll get once you have several companies asking you to broker relationships for them with social enterprises in the UK. If you’re interested in long-term procurement relationships in the supply chain and you want repeat arrangements that are still valuable, still competitive, still challenging on quality, you will find SBP helpful, not just in the first introduction but also in helping the social enterprise deliver more for the same.
Neo: We saw the Social Value Act coming into force a couple of years ago, and now ahead of the elections Labour is promising a social procurement minister. What would you like to see from policymakers that would trigger a bigger shift in the corporate mindset towards shared value?
Chris: That’s a very interesting question because I don’t have a shopping list of things I’d like to see from policy makers. What you have to do is ensure that policy doesn’t obstruct. So the Social Value Act is helpful because it says to all the stakeholders you need to pay attention to your contribution to the improvement and the health of society, but it may lie in the detail. It may lie in the detail around taxation policy and issues like that to do with scale at simplification. But I’m not aware of any particular legislative changes we need to see made. What I know simply is this; we need some brave seriously sized businesses to say we’re going to join, we’re going to get stuck in and we’re going to have a go at this. In other words, a commitment from organisations which are not simply somehow ticking a box and playing along with the CSR agenda. People who are at the leadership level within business get it, that their business is a seriously important part of what makes society better.