Based on the surprising findings of a survey into the purchasing habits of social enterprises and other trading third sector organisations in Birmingham, iSE (Initiative for Social Entrepreneurs) has launched a campaign to encourage more inter-trading.
The Shop for Change campaign aims to make it easier for enterprises in Birmingham to buy business goods and services from each other, and also to identify any gaps in supply which iSE can then encourage social entrepreneurs to fill.
The survey, which was part of iSE’s MarketMaking initiative supported by Be Birmingham, was carried out between January and April 2010. It involved social enterprises and other third sector trading organisations completing a detailed ‘markets and trading’ diagnostic. This was the first time in Birmingham that there had been an attempt to examine in such detail how social enterprises behave in the marketplace.
An analysis of the results was carried out, based on a sample of 60 diagnostics, which captured a representative cross-section of Birmingham’s social enterprises and reflected the diversity of its service and trade sectors.
Among other findings, it was revealed that 35% of social enterprises don’t buy any goods or services at all from within the third sector; almost half spend less than 10% of their supplier-spend in the sector; only 13% spend between 10% and 30% of their supplier-spend in the sector; and less than 2% spend 50% or more of their supplier-spend in the sector.
“Our survey also revealed how reliant many social enterprises are on public sector contracts,” says Sarah Crawley, Chief Executive of iSE, “so, faced with significant public sector spending cuts, these organisations are going to have to find alternative customers if they are to survive. It seemed to me to be a logical step that they should look first ‘in their own backyard’ and increase the amount of business they do with each other. Our Shop for Change campaign is designed to facilitate that process.”
Speaking at the launch, Councillor Sue Anderson, Cabinet Member for Adults and Communities at Birmingham City Council, said: ”The city council wants to see social enterprise flourish and expand – although we are well aware of the difficulties. Social enterprises need to be shopping with each other to make sure that the sector is well sustained and well supported for the future. Again Birmingham is leading the way. This is a terrific campaign, which will show others up and down the country how to do it.”
Among the reasons given in the survey for the lack of inter-trading between social enterprises were the non-availability of appropriate goods and services, uncompetitive pricing and unacceptable quality. Through the ‘Shop for Change’ campaign iSE is aiming not only to encourage new and existing third sector organisations to fill the gaps in the market, but also to work with organisations to improve their processes and skills to make the sector more competitive.
“We were delighted by the energy and enthusiasm generated at the launch,” says Sarah. “People embraced the concept and immediately started making contacts and discussing opportunities to work together. I see this campaign as being about revolution – working together to change the world. We will be encouraging many more organisations to sign the pledge and join the campaign over the coming months.”
iSE has been working to develop the third sector in Birmingham and the wider West Midlands region for over 10 years. MarketMaking is just one of a range of initiatives currently under way. For further information see www.i-se.co.uk.