WHAT do artisanal coffee beans, hand soap and bottled water all have in common?
Everyday items that you might find in different aisles of supermarkets up and down the country, and yet all three will be lined up side-by-side at Borough Market this weekend as part of the Social Saturday showcase of how people can use their spending power to support a good cause.
The annual event, organised by Social Enterprise UK, aims to raise awareness of the difference that social enterprises are making in communities, and challenges businesses, consumers and local government to support their work through their purchasing decisions.
There are events scheduled all over the country, but one of the biggest will be Borough Market’s local gathering of social firms, with the spotlight firmly placed on the products and business models that are striving to address some of our biggest social and environmental challenges.
Launched in Wales in 2013, the event has received cross-party support and endorsement from celebrities like Michael Sheen, who has helped the campaign drive public awareness of social enterprises from 37% to 51%, according to Fiona Young, SEUK’s media and communications director.
“The campaign reach has grown each year as more social enterprises and also more consumers take part and share content,” she says.
“The focus has grown from an awareness raising campaign to a more focused ask of consumers to change at least one product for a social enterprise alternative; making one small change, one big difference.”
Accordingly, more consumers are buying their coffee beans from the likes of Fairtrade pioneer Cafédirect, or hand soap from Clarity, the UK’s oldest surviving social enterprise, which employs people with disabilities to produce their range of toiletry products. Fiona says that while the progress has been promising, the social enterprise movement needs the help of big business to really grow.
“A key area for us to drive greater awareness though is with private and public sector organisations who have huge purchasing capacity but are not aware of the difference that they could be making through simply changing their procurement practices to include social enterprises in their supply chain,” she says.
In 2016 SEUK launched the Buy Social Corporate Challenge in partnership with high profile businesses like Johnson & Johnson, PwC, Zurich and Santander to get them to spend £1 billion with social enterprises by 2020, a figure Fiona admits is ambitious, but doable.
“Together, these businesses employ over 700,000 people around the world and have a combined turnover in excess of $200billion,” she says.
SEUK are trying to recruit more businesses to the Buy Social Corporate Challenge, but there is still plenty an individual can do at home.
“This year we’re asking consumers to swap their purchases for social enterprise ones, be that coffee, socks, sofas, chocolates, jewellery or even changing where you get your bike fixed,” says Peter Holbrook, CEO of SEUK.
“Whatever you’re after, chances are there’ll be a social enterprise supplier out there.”