Euclid Network’s (EN) final panel session at EUSES 2020 was co-hosted by our very own Wieteke Dupain alongside Chris Gordon – co-host of the conference and CEO of EN’s member The Irish Social Enterprise Network. Together they led ‘Opportunities and Challenges for Buy Social’ with a fantastic group of speakers divided across two panels. The first group was comprised of experts on the topic of Buy Social, drawn from national social enterprise support networks, the European Commission and the private sector. The second panel was made up of practitioners on the social enterprise side of Buy Social, offering insights into their experiences and the view from those on the ground.

Wieteke and Chris gave a concise overview of many of the current Buy Social initiatives and campaigns that are ongoing both at the European level as well as those focussing on global public procurement policies. Globally, public procurement accounts for trillions of Euros. Wieteke captured the imagination of those watching by encouraging them to think about how much could be achieved and how much better the world may be if social clauses and Buy Social initiatives were included in this huge area of spending. Social procurement however is not only something of interest and attention for the public sector with the potential contribution of the private sector also noted by Wieteke.

Access both to public and private procurement is important for social enterprises and joining social procurement communities of practice can support social enterprises in their pursuit of contracts and opportunities. Collaboration at all levels greatly supports initiatives in this area, including in the Social Economy World Forum and the World Economic Forum’s COVID Response Alliance.

An overview of the first panel:

The first panel included Charlie Wigglesworth from Social Enterprise UK (SE UK) who recalled that SE UK developed the Buy Social idea and campaign in 2012 and noted its continuing relevance and success ten years on. He noted three ways in which ‘Buy Social’ as a term is being used by SE UK at present: through the use of badges and a logo; through working with policy makers in the public sector; and through working with those in the private sector and the development of partnerships.

Stefan Panhuijsem from Social Enterprise Netherlands (SE NL) followed Charlie, describing how SE UK’s campaign inspired their work in the Netherlands. SE NL however have taken a slightly different approach deciding not to distinguish between public and private procurement, rather focussing on the idea of social procurement as an ideal in all areas. SE NL have utilised their partner network which includes private companies as well as local authorities to drive their campaign. They seek to identify what is and is not working in social procurement practices, identifying institutional barriers. Their work includes organising workshops for social enterprises so as to provide them with the information and skills they need to be able to win public and private contracts.

Anna Lupi from the European Commission offered a broader European perspective on the idea of Buy Social from the policy maker’s perspective. She was frank and honest that even though the Commission has been working on social procurement for a decade, there is still a lot to do. The work of the Commission is greatly focussed on achieving an integrated European approach to opening-up the market to social enterprises. In addition to social procurement, there is now an increased focus on sustainable procurement which has been supported by a reform of the European Directives. These changes have fostered a change in the mentality of those making procurement decisions, encouraging them also to consider how their procurement policies align with their stated goals and to consider social and environmental as well as financial costs. Anna illustrated a highly European understanding of the diversity that exist across national contexts but reiterated the possibility to work in a united fashion towards our common objectives.

The final speaker in the first panel was Alexandra van der Ploeg from SAP. She emphasised the importance of building networks, partnership and ecosystems: all objectives that SAP is working on at present. Alexandra noted the importance of education and awareness building in the development of more widespread social dimensions on procurement policies. For the past decade, SAP has been working on social procurement and has also been greatly inspired by the work of SE UK and the Social Enterprise World Forum. Alexandra highlighted SAP’s ‘5&5 by 25’ initiative amongst the various actions they are taking to diversify their procurement of products and services. With a growing interest of companies to act with corporate social responsibility, SAP intends to act as a global leader, accelerating change and working to build strong social procurement practices.

A recap of the second panel:

The second panel featured three social entrepreneurs who shared their experiences as social entrepreneurs and of working in social enterprise, illuminating some of the varied business models utilised by social enterprises. These entrepreneurs were Caroline Gardner, Joost de Kluijver and Cecilia Crossley.

Caroline represented ‘We Make Good’, a social enterprise that helps people from marginalised communities to set up their own businesses. These communities include women recently released from prison, asylum seekers and people with disabilities. They have both an online and a physical shop where they sell the products they help create. ‘We Make Good’ works as a connector or facilitator, also focussing on product development and design which includes marketing these products to people, companies and the public. Joost from ‘Closing the Loop’ detailed the work that they do in digital hardware waste reduction. The idea behind ‘Closing the Loop’ is that once a new electronic product is purchased by a company in the Netherlands or Europe, the company pays ‘Closing the Loop’ to offset the waste created in Europe by managing e-waste in Africa and other countries around the world. This therefore makes the company waste-neutral and contributes to the achievement of environmental targets. Cecelia detailed the work that ‘From Babies with Love’ does to solve the problem of a high labour turnover of women and parents. She discussed the cost of replacing workers with an emphasis on how this specifically affects women (mothers) and that it involves a very high cost for a company. Hence, ‘From Babies with Love’ helps to make and provide baby gifts for these affected employees and also donates a gift to a less fortunate child somewhere else in the world.

The panel emphasised the need for capacity building to be undertaken in the social enterprise sector, better enabling these organisations to deliver on corporate contracts and building the trust and credibility of the sector. These speakers as representatives of social enterprises from different countries also highlighted the need to forge a better international agreement on what the value of social enterprise is. This perhaps requires less of a focus on individual organisations but on the entire sector, identifying synergies and investing in education and training. Organisations must be ready and willing to work together, focussing on collective goals and strengthening the sector through collaboration rather than through competition.

Closing remarks

Chris and Wieteke brought the session to a close, encouraging the audience to join the global and European Social Procurement Committees of Practice, to research YSB’s Unusual Partner’s initiative and to nominate yourself or a social entrepreneur who is corporate ready for Acumen’s ongoing campaign relating to Buy Social. The importance of all the elements of the panellists’ contributions and their relevance to the upcoming European Social Economy Action Plan was highlighted. Additionally, the need to utilise data such as that collected in the European Social Enterprise Monitor was mentioned. Through utilising data, feeding into the new framework for the European Social Economy and identifying the potential and success of campaigns like Buy Social, the possibility of driving positive change and achieving social and environmental impact seems more possible than ever. EN is committed to continuing our actions in all these areas, contributing to the development of an economy that puts people and the planet at its centre.

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