Why Supporting Social Enterprises Is Good for Procurement- And Auticon Impresses

We wrote here about the Social Enterprise UK (SEUK)  reception and the progress that is being made in terms of the “Buy Social” challenge – the target for big firms to spend £1 billion with social enterprises by 2010.

Going back to some of our previous discussions with procurement people around this issue, there is a strong feeling that this sort of initiative can have real benefits to the credibility and position of the procurement function. Talking to a category manager at a huge global medical and consumer goods firm, he told me that he would never get in front of the Board to discuss his FM category strategy, but “I’ve met the Chairman and presented at the highest levels” when it comes down to their social enterprise work.

These initiatives often get attention from the top people, so procurement can do itself a favour here, as well as supporting worthwhile causes. Talking of that, at the recent event we heard from Belu, who have now donated over £2.2 million to Water Aid, and continue to innovate in areas such as improving the recyclability of plastic bottles and introducing filtration products for business customers.

The other presentation on the day which really caught our attention was from Ray Coyle of Auticon. This is an IT consulting firm with around 120 consultants and 150 staff in total - but what makes it special is that all the consultants are on the autistic spectrum. What Auticon, and, we might hope society at large, has recognised is that these individuals often have some very particular skills that have huge value. In areas such as pattern recognition, persistent concentration and attention to detail their skills can be way ahead of an “average” IT person.

70% of the consultants were long-term unemployed previously and most of the others were in unsuitable jobs – delivering pizza for instance. Auticon recognises though that the firm has to deliver to clients; this is not about “charity”. So the firm puts a lot of emphasis on putting the right people into the right roles and making sure training and supervision is appropriate too.

Amazingly, autism costs the UK at least £32 billion per year in treatment, lost earnings, care and support for children and adults and is the single most costly medical condition! So finding ways to tap into the skills in that community really is a win:win for those individuals and the wider community. And given the skills shortage in many areas of the IT market, this seems like a brilliant idea.

Going back to the benefits for procurement too, it would be good to see more large firms getting involved with the Buy Social initiative. It is motivating for staff, you will be doing something that is genuinely good for society, and you can get in front of your top executives with a positive story. What’s not to like? So if you are interested, contact SEUK here.

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