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Social Entrepreneur Index Nominee: Supply Change

'We want to make the process of procuring social enterprises as easy, quick and safe as any other business' - Aoise Keogan Nooshabadi talks to UMi about the impact and goals of Supply Change, the digital marketplace for UK social enterprise.

What does your social enterprise do?   

Supply Change is a digital marketplace that connects social enterprises to public sector contracts, helping them to have a greater social impact in their local communities. We aim to increase the social value of public sector supply chains by being a central place for public sector organisations to find social suppliers.

Unlike other procurement platforms, Supply Change will be the UK’s only social-enterprise-specific procurement tool that helps public sector organisations add more social value into their supply chains. We believe that social enterprises have a lot to offer the communities that public sector organisations seek to serve. We also offer consultancy services to both private and public sector organisations who wish to increase their spend with social enterprises.      

What made you start your business up?   

In February 2018 we were commissioned by a large UK housing association to find out why there were only a few social enterprises in public sector supply chains. We noticed that although £200bn of public sector money a year was being spent on goods and services, most of this spending went to large private organisations, who can get the job done but provide little or no social value.

With nearly 100,000 social enterprises in the UK, these mission-driven organisations were well positioned to embed social value. We also noticed in cases when they did engage with social enterprises, public sector organisations were making some serious savings to society. Take 'Recycling Lives' for example, a waste management social enterprise who, in the last two years, have created over £9m in social value through savings to society by rehabilitating and employing ex-offenders. This example shows how progressive procurement makes sense, however, it still wasn’t commonplace.

Our research led us to multiple reasons why this was the case; misconceptions of social enterprise, the size of social enterprises, risk-mitigation and very difficult to navigate procurement platforms. Despite there being a will to change, fueled by the success of social enterprises such as Recycling Lives, the Preston model and of course the government’s Social Value Act, there were no systems in place to drive this will. This is where Supply Change came in.    

How do you measure your impact?   

Our platform will assist the social enterprises we work with leading to job creation,  community regeneration and better health and wellbeing. We will measure our impact in two ways; through the increase in revenue and the increase in job opportunities for social enterprise beneficiaries from using the platform.   

What help did you have to start your social enterprise?   

We had a great deal of support from our inception. We were born out of the social innovation programme Year Here. It was on this programme where we came up with our idea and formed the team. The networks and training we received there has given us the confidence and capacity to take this forward.

We have had masses of support from Orbit Housing. From the moment we started our consultancy project through to their formal support of investment in us, they have been champions for us in the sector.  

We have been a part of several accelerators: We in Social Tech, a partnership with Nwes and Deutsche Bank for women in social tech, Allia Serious Impact Incubator and the prestigious London and Partners programme run by the Mayor of London. 

Along the way we have also had support from the likes of Investec through the Beyond Business programme, Good for Nothing, Natwest, Hogan Lovells, Pernod Ricard through their partnership with Social Starters, We Make Change, the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Founders and Coders and Forward 3D.      

How did you decide on what legal form would work best for your business?   

We decided to incorporate as a CLS. Our business model is profitable and ensures that we can make as much impact as possible both now and for years to come. This also allows us to make the most out of different funding opportunities.    

What’s the best thing about being a social entrepreneur?   

A lot of our friends want to make an impact in some way or another. This usually takes the form of weekly/monthly volunteering - or nothing at all due to time constraints. Working for a social enterprise allows me to make a positive difference to the world in my 9-5  alone. It’s easy to go to work knowing we are creating impact and contributing to something greater than just profit.

We think social entrepreneurs are ahead of the curve. Business is changing. Companies are no longer praised alone on growth and their ability to make profits, but on their positive impact in the communities they are operating in.      

What has been your biggest challenge when setting up and running your social  enterprise?   

We have had a tremendous amount of support throughout our short life-span which has contributed greatly to our growth.

Accessing finance as a social enterprise has been difficult. We sit in a funny gap between charities/CICs and solely for-profit companies. Whilst the movement for impact investment is growing and more funds are opening up to social enterprises, we think a lot more could be done in the space.      

What advice would you give to aspiring social entrepreneurs?   

Get on the Year Here programme, craft your idea and meet your co-founders. Perfect your pitch and get your idea out there. Use support platforms like We Make Change to get the ball rolling. Apply for accelerators and growth programmes to grow.     

What are your plans for the next 2-5 years?   

We are excited to launch our MVP later this year. From that, we hope to grow our offering with the likes of industry events, an impact assessment toolkit and a knowledge hub to help buyers and suppliers make more impact.  

If we capture just 2% of the £200bn annual spend in the public sector and redirect it to social suppliers we would allow for even more impact and job creation. We want to make the process of procuring social enterprises as easy, quick and safe as any other business. 

Ashleigh Smith
Article by Ashleigh Smith
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