We social entrepreneurs are big on reminding people to vote with their wallets and invest their talent with companies that create social impact. Yet we often fail to do this ourselves. It’s a classic case of, “Do as I say, not as I do.”
Social entrepreneurs should be the first to support their own kind through business-to-business purchasing. Of course, companies can’t be expected to buy from social enterprises to their own detriment. But as more businesses adopt the social enterprise model, value-aligned products and services are increasingly available at all price points. These high-quality, mission-driven products and services may very well meet your business needs, and your buying power can help the companies behind them maximize social impact through a powerful multiplier effect.
Maximize social impact through purchasing
The B Lab Best Practice Guide for Creating Impact Through Purchasing outlines a strategic approach to gathering information about your company’s supply chain and leveraging purpose through purchasing.
Eco2Librium, which makes cookstoves in Kenya, for example, screens all of its suppliers to prevent child labor and ensure non-discrimination, while also providing micro-loans to those in need. Patagonia, the big kahuna among B Corporations, actively works for a living wage and fair working conditions throughout its supply chain.
These two companies are not isolated examples. In 2013, the United Kingdom’s Business in the Community initiative surveyed the country’s 70,000 social enterprises and found that 4 out of 5 of their chief procurement officers prioritized purchasing from other social entrepreneurs. The benefits they cited, outlined in this white paper, range from increased innovation and multiplied social impact to demonstrating company values to customers and other stakeholders.
Yet many social enterprises, B Corps, and traditional businesses that claim to prioritize purpose can do much more to evaluate the social impact credentials of their partners within the supply chain and beyond. Who is your accountant, attorney, lobbyist, or marketing agency? Do they also match your values?
Putting it into practice
I’ll share a first-person experience from my company, Oliver Russell, a certified B Corp and benefit corporation that helps purpose-driven companies build their brands. Most clients come to us because they need an agency with experience in purpose-driven marketing services, and they feel our company’s values align with their own. Yet many social enterprises in our backyard of Boise, Idaho, don’t include us in their consideration set.
We noticed a successful social entrepreneur from Boise partner with a Los Angeles firm for her public relations and another hire a Portland agency for his rebranding work. Neither of the out-of-state agencies they chose are certified B Corps or public benefit corporations. What’s up with that? On the flip-side, a California-based food bank supported by a philanthropic billionaire crossed state lines to work with a marketing agency here in Boise. Normally, I’d do a slow clap, except this agency doesn’t have a hint of intentional social purpose in its corporate DNA.
I could go on, but at the risk of sounding like a whiner, let me explain what I’m getting at here: Leveraging purpose matters. As social entrepreneurs, we’re in a position to accelerate positive social change among like-minded companies. Building a network of partners who share your purpose also sets your company apart from the pack. It shows your peers, employees, and the general public that you walk the walk and make your values part of your everyday business decisions.
The bottom line
Social entrepreneurs possess tremendous purchasing power. If we really want to reshape capitalism, it’s time to start using it.
Redefining business as a force for good means supporting other entrepreneurs who are on the same mission. All it takes is a basic awareness of our business partners. C’mon people: Spend with a sister, buy from a brother.
Right now, social entrepreneurs represent a small but mighty tribe — and our ranks are growing. With that growth comes the responsibility to be at the top of our game in ways old-school businesses do not have to consider. Directing our purchasing to like-minded partners is a potent way to grow this movement. I know that my own company can and should do better at this. I’m betting — and hoping — that you can, too.
Russ Stoddard is the founder and president of Oliver Russell, a public benefit corporation in Boise that builds brands for purpose-driven companies whose products, services and business models benefit society. He’s also cofounder of Humanista, a social impact lab and consulting firm with offices in the US and Europe. He’s a leader in the certified B Corporation community — the new classification of companies that use the power of business to solve social and environmental issues. His book, “Rise Up: How to Build a Socially Conscious Business,” was published in September 2017. Find out more at russstoddard.com.