Three intermediaries helping their members get to new buyers
Access to customers – whether public, private, individual consumers or businesses – is vital to sustain and grow a business. But while new enterprises may be providing quality products and services, sometimes they need help to become more visible and to reach buyers.
That’s where intermediaries can come in.
Here’s how some of Euclid Network’s members from around Europe are supporting their members.
Social Enterprise NL – Netherlands
The national membership body Social Enterprise NL represents, connects and supports a growing community of social enterprises in the Netherlands. Founded in 2012, it now has over 350 members.
A “Buy Social” campaign to encourage large businesses and government bodies to buy goods and services from social enterprises. This includes:
- Creating the Social Impact Market (in partnership with Social Impact Factory), a website that lists B2B products and services from social enterprise providers. The site also shares best practices and other inspiring content.
- Setting up and organising a “Buy Social” community of practice for (potential) buyers, so they can learn from each other’s experiences of social procurement.
- Organising events and training, including:
- a matching event enabling social entrepreneurs to pitch for potential B2B customers
- seminars for large organisations about how to align procurement activities with CSR ambitions, and featuring best practices by those who have become customers of social enterprises
- workshops for social entrepreneurs on how to win government contracts
Finding customers is “one of the main bottlenecks” when it comes to social enterprises growing their business (and their impact), says Bart Krull, who leads on business development at Social Enterprise NL.
“Secondly, from talking to larger organisations (both public and private), we learned that social procurement needs a real mental shift in order to spread”, he adds. Currently people in procurement tend to focus on cost and quality alone. “That’s perfectly OK, of course, but we also need to look at how products are made and what impact they have on society. So more emphasis on the potential impact you can have through the procurement process is vital. We try to make the inspiring products and services provided by social enterprises very visible, and we also get the professionals working at these organisations (those in CSR or procurement) to share their positive experiences.”
So far, eight matching events with 99 pitches have led to over 30 business deals. Additional matches have been made via the Social Impact Market.
What are Social Enterprise NL’s top tip for other intermediaries considering doing something similar?
“Make sure you understand the dynamics in the organisations that you target”, says Bart. “We speak to a lot of professionals who themselves are quite enthusiastic about social procurement, but often work in an organsiation that doesn’t see the advantages (for instance, because of an overemphasis on cost, or because there is a long relationship with current suppliers). Choosing procurement that focuses on impact is quite a shift, so you need to understand what is going on in the organisation to help change it.”
Smart Kolektiv – Serbia
Smart Kolektiv promotes corporate social responsibility and social entrepreneurship development in Serbia, supporting social enterprises through capacity building, access to finance, promotion, and private sector collaboration. The organisation is also co-founder and co-administrator of SENS (Social Economy Network Serbia) and the Responsible Business Forum, which includes the country’s 30+ largest companies.
- inviting them to pitch at quarterly Responsible Business Forum meetings;
- involving social enterprises in an annual conference on CSR (for Serbia and the wider region), where they can display their products and services in a social enterprise marketplace and participate in “speed-dating” with potential clients from the business sector;
- giving participants in Smart Kolektiv’s incubation and acceleration programmes the knowhow to approach companies and prepare a pitch, and multiple opportunities to pitch to big companies. They also get the chance to be listed in an annual Partnership Catalogue that details their products/services and ways that corporates can support them.
In addition, Smart Kolektiv offers guidance to corporates around the country on how to integrate social businesses into their supply chain, how to provide pro bono support and developing strategic partnerships.
“Social enterprises usually lack skills and resources to identify potential partners, approach them and create offers that can bring benefits for both sides”, says Ivana Stancic, Programme Manager at Smart Kolektiv’s Social innovation Programme. “Coming mostly from civil sector, SEs usually see financial support and philanthropic giving as the main cooperation opportunities — but large, responsible companies can be great partners and provide valuable support in terms of supply chains, knowledge and expertise, contacts and other resources (equipment, marketing and so on).”
Large companies, for their part, often don’t know the social enterprise space and find it difficult to identify potential partners. “They usually need recommendations for reliable partners with whom they can develop strategic, long term partnerships”, says Ivana.
SK has brokered many successful partnerships, many lasting for several years and with social enterprises becoming regular suppliers and partners to large companies.
For example, social enterprise Bagel Bejgl – whose profits go to programmes supporting victims of trafficking and domestic violence – has developed partnerships with several major companies. One of their first partners was Erste Bank, which has used them as their catering supplier for meetings and corporate events.
“It’s important to provide multiple opportunities (regular activities) for networking”, says Ivana. “The two sectors can offer a lot one to another, but they are not always aware of possibilities and the benefits cooperation can have. So intermediary organisations have an important role in preparing both sides and creating opportunities for networking and developing partnerships.”
Consorzio SIS – Italy
Consorzio SIS, based in Milan, brings together and supports strategic development of 32 social enterprises and cooperatives. Previously focused mostly on establishing new organisations and helping them access public funding, nowadays Consorzio SIS mainly works to help members to innovate their services and compete in the market.
A platform, CGM Welfare, that gathers over 200 social enterprises throughout Italy providing welfare services, and sells these to large companies wanting to offer such services to their employees, such as vouchers for childcare or leisure activities.
The platform was created by CGM national cooperative group along with its members, Consorzio SIS of Milan and another 20 cooperative groups in other cities.
The CGM platform is part of wider efforts to create closer links with large companies and to build positive actions together with the community.
Employee welfare is a significant need now in Italy. Most private companies don’t offer these optional services to their staff, but employee vouchers are a good incentive as they are tax-exempt.
A single cooperative meanwhile, would find it hard to meet the needs of a large corporate client: their employees might be in multiple locations around the country, and they may be looking for a wide range of services.
Consorzio SIS’s welfare managers can approach these potential customers, inform them about the tax implications, and provide training or guidance on employee welfare, advising them on activities tailored to their workers’ specific needs. They can then show them a wide range of social cooperatives providing services in different parts of the country— from those organising summer camps for children, to those offering support to care for people with a disability — all of which have been verified and quality checked.
Activity started only in May 2018, but initial work has led to interest from potential clients (including a national bank) and requests for appointments.
In the meantime, the team are continuing to map services offered by cooperatives, and are streamlining processes for requesting and using the services.
“It’s not a simple programme because some people still hesitate to buy such services online”, says Cecilia Storti, welfare manager at Consorzio SIS. “In addition, the corporate market is not typically one that cooperatives have targeted, and they have not been investing much in understanding this sector.”
It can also be challenging to explain the offer to new clients, she adds.
“We’ve found that we need to use a language suitable for people who do not know social services, and to make sure we are really answering their needs and not just presenting who we are as a cooperative.”
https://seiwelfare.it/welfare-aziendale/ and http://cgm.coop/welfare-aziendale/
Euclid Network members are civil society and social enterprise federations, universities and training institutes, social investors, frontline NGOs and social enterprises – all working to empower civil society and social enterprise to drive positive change.