Forget legal form – show me the impact

Neo Christodoulou

If the Labour party is elected in May it will seek to create a legally binding definition of social enterprise, according to a commitment made by Chi Onwurah MP at the 2014 Annual Labour Conference. A social enterprise can take a number of legal forms, and despite all the time and energy spent debating the issue over the years there is no single, widely-approved definition of what a social enterprise is.

The introduction of such a measure would bring benefits by way of attracting more institutional investors into the sector, but many companies that distribute profit or are privately owned but deliver great social impact may be excluded. Rod Schwartz, CEO of ClearlySo, recently argued that “Whatever the form/ structure/ intention, we should weight our judgement… towards those firms generating the greatest impact. Society is not helped if we restrict contract winners only (for example) to Community Interest Companies and charities if a Limited Company were better able to deliver the sorts of results governments desire - such as reducing reoffending rates or helping NEETs find long term employment.”

Here at Shaftesbury Partnership we agree with him. Our venture Social Business Partnership (SBP) is a membership organisation which helps companies to build a more responsible and impactful supply chain by brokering introductions to high-quality social enterprise suppliers, and our focus is always on the impact generated. First and foremost SBP helps its members to understand what social value means to them. If your company wants to use its purchasing power to create jobs for individuals who are distant from the labour market, we will work with you to develop a clear procurement strategy to make this happen in a way which is consistent with your core business requirements.

There are many directories out there which can help procurement teams to find social enterprises, and they may be an attractive option from a compliance angle, but in the same way that a certain legal form is not a guarantee that a company is delivering impact, neither is its appearance in a social enterprise directory. SBP’s bespoke service helps companies take a long term strategic approach and makes sure the suppliers recommended are a good fit for each of our members.

Our ultimate aim is to demystify the process of creating social impact through procurement. We know that companies want to make sure each pound they spend benefits society, and we work with our members to make it as easy as possible to achieve this. To find out more, please contact the venture manager Andy Daly at or on 0207 620 1211.

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