We need to change the way we do business. We can’t keep doing business in the same way. That’s the claim from Social Enterprise NI, the voice and representative body for the sector.
The organisation is at the heart of the drive for increasing the awareness of, and engagement of other sectors with their members. “The sector is growing and making a real contribution to the lives of all of society,” claims Colin Jess, director of Social Enterprise NI.
The important message is that social enterprises are businesses, like any other SME, striving to be sustainable, generating profit with a strong business plan. The difference is what they do with their profits. Rather than paying dividends to shareholders, profits are reinvested into the organisation for the benefit of their social mission, whether that be to help long-term unemployed, those with disabilities, ex-offenders or indeed any of society who are furthest from the labour market back into employment. Social enterprise generates profits which help support homelessness, children in foster care, recycling and other services for those in their local and wider communities.
“The sector is flourishing,” says Jess. “The number of social enterprises joining the supply chains of private and public sector bodies continues to grow as more and more organisations see the benefits of engaging with them. But overall it is about the quality of the product or service and in that regard social enterprises compete with other SMEs in satisfying the needs of discerning buyers.
“Social enterprises want to make a difference and we as a representative body want to change the way organisations think about doing business. Every business should be considering how they procure for their contracts. Is it right that cost and quality are the only contributors to decision making?”
In this regard Social Enterprise NI have been at the forefront of the push for a Social Value Act for Northern Ireland, the only part of the UK without any form of procurement legislation to support social value. Through its continuing engagement with the All Party Group for Social Enterprise, the organisation challenges political parties and lobbies for their support in the quest to establish social value legislation in Northern Ireland. Importantly this now enjoys support across all the main political parties.
However, it is not only in Northern Ireland that the organisation is making its mark. “Through our work and engagement with partners and stakeholders, Social Enterprise NI is establishing its worldwide credibility. A recent linkage with British Council and the visit from a group of Philippine delegates, followed up by a reciprocal visit of our chairman John McMullan to the Philippines in November 2018, positions the organisation and members on a worldwide stage, seeing how its members have assisted and driven post conflict resolution across Northern Ireland,” explains Jess.
“If you represent a private or public sector organisation it would be great to talk to you about how you can become a member or be more involved by attending or sponsoring an event, or by including our members in your supply chains.
“Social enterprise is the present and the future of business. Its position and contribution to the Northern Ireland economy continue to grow. It would be great for you to join us on the journey.”