Sanum Jain & Jo Barnett
Guardian Professional, Wednesday 18 December 2013 09.18 GMT
This year GiveMeTap, a social enterprise that enables bottle-holders to get free water from a network of cafes and restaurants and helps another person in Africa get access to water, won Start and Virgin Money's Be the Start sustainable business competition. In light of working together both sides have shared their experiences and the lessons they have learnt.
The social enterprise sector is rapidly expanding and evolving. The fusion of commercial business models with social ambitions has seen numerous social enterprises create dramatic impacts across the world. For years, charities have been working with large corporates to obtain funding and make an impact. increasingly, we are seeing that, in order to grow, social enterprises must also collaborate with large corporates. Now is the time to approach big organisations, since there is an urgent need to connect with social issues in a sustainable way, and social enterprises offer this in a way that some charities cannot.
The most important lesson we've received through pursuing corporate strategy is that it isn't just about trying to get funding. It is about constructing a partnership that is valuable to the company, in line with their ambitions and that can fulfil their needs as a business. It is about helping them to find unusual ways to change the way people live, think and consume for the betterment of the world. If you're a social enterprise with a product offering, launching internally can galvanise staff and customers around your social mission and encourage behavioural changes; which is especially true for our goal of getting people to drink water more sustainably.
Working with corporates can sometimes be overlooked or appear daunting, but there are many advantages. Some great ways to get influential people from large organisations to notice you is through being seen as a thought leader and securing recognition awards. GiveMeTap's corporate journey started out this way when founder Edwin Broni-Mensah spoke at an event and caught the eye of its first corporate partner. Similarly, as an exciting consequence of winning the Virgin Money "Be the Start" competition, our pitch was watched by staff and key decision-makers which led to us launching GiveMeTap in Virgin Money's Manchester store and lounge.
Among the most attractive benefits of partnerships are the opportunities that can follow. In the super-connected world of business, corporate partners can open up their "little black book" and this creates a ripple effect of opportunities. It is critical to work closely together and prove your benefits to them, as this may then be shown to other organisations and lead to more successes. We like to call this "the girlfriend effect": once you get one, they all follow!
From experience, we have learned that corporate partnerships offer an invaluable education in how to implement business process that allow a social enterprise to operate more efficiently, and more importantly, effectively. To improve their business, social enterprises can take advantage of the time they spend not only with CSR teams, but marketing and branding teams. As a business, we have been able to implement effective brand messaging after shadowing the behaviours and learning the skills of our large partners.
GiveMeTap has pursued a corporate strategy for the last year, partnering with firms through our co-branded reusable bottle. As a first step, this is a simple but effective way for a business to combine both procurement and CSR by using a social enterprise as a supplier. However, several corporates are committed to disrupting their markets and that's exactly what Virgin Money is doing by retailing GiveMeTap bottles in a bank! It is unconventional, it is unusual and it gets people thinking about social enterprise.
We can gain so much from corporates by applying radical new ideas and by thinking outside the box. Although it is a big commitment, partnering with large firms is a promising way for your mission to spread and your social impact to grow exponentially. In the last year, both our business growth and our impact in Africa has been nothing short of magical, leading an a tenfold increase in sales, and this is mainly down to the learning and scale that corporate partnerships have offered. The time to grasp the corporate opportunity is now.
Social entrepreneurs tackle problems in a creative way. They positively disrupt and innovate, and in doing so they make a positive difference in the world, as we are aiming to do. We feel private sector businesses must continue to evolve to add value in a constantly changing world. Incorporating social ambition into the corporate strategy is crucial to the future of business in a world where the consumer is ever more aware – and, consequently, more discerning.
Virgin Money's social ambition is to make everyone better off – our customers, corporate partners, colleagues and communities – and by doing this, the company itself will thrive. This ethos sits at the heart of the business, helping to shape everything we do and the way we do it. Our involvement with social enterprises such as GiveMeTap is one example of this philosophy. Not only are we lending our brand and our experience and expertise to an up and coming organisation, but the partnership also raises awareness of GiveMeTap's product among our customers and staff, giving them the opportunity to take a step in the right direction, to live more sustainably.
We've also stock GiveMeTap bottles in our Manchester store and lounge. These locations act as a filling point for GiveMeTap bottles, helping consumers save money on bottled water and reducing landfill. But crucially, our GiveMeTap displays act as great conversation starters for customers regarding this positive initiative and others like it. It is important that staff and customers get to hear directly from the social enterprises and charities we support to help generate enthusiasm and action.
Many organisations make the mistake of adopting corporate social responsibility for the purpose of corporate window dressing. We believe business should be a real force for good in the world. By working with social enterprises for mutual benefit, we are helping to ensure that we can help make everyone better off.