What Do Social Enterprises Have to Do with the Construction Industry?

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August 8, 2013; The Guardian


One of the UK’s biggest construction companies has launched the Social Enterprise National Brokerage service, aimed at promoting the use of social enterprises at all its construction sites

Wates, which derives 70 percent of its business from the public sector, is collaborating with Social Enterprise UK on the endeavor, which is meant to facilitate the sourcing of services from social enterprises at each of Wates’s construction sites. The effort aligns with the company’s Reshaping Tomorrow initiative, which commits to providing 5,000 employment and training opportunities for disadvantaged groups by 2015.

The UK’s Social Value Act encourages business trading with social enterprises. Nick Temple of Social Enterprise UK says, “More and more companies are approaching us asking how they can better work with social enterprise and really benefit local people and their communities. With the Social Value Act now in full force, and an emphasis on creating added social value in public sector contracts, this trend is set to continue.”

“Wates are setting the benchmarks getting social enterprises in their corporate supply chain and making an enormous difference to local job markets and the communities in which they work,” according to Temple. “This brokerage service will not only influence the construction sector, but the wider business community, too.”

As a reference point, below is the Social Value Act’s definition of a social enterprise:


What are social enterprises?

Social enterprises are businesses that exist primarily for a social or environmental purpose. They use business to tackle social problems, improve people’s life chances, and protect the environment. They create shared wealth and give people a stake in the economy.

Social enterprise is a growing sector—there are more than 68,000 social enterprises in the UK, contributing £24 billion to the UK economy and employing almost one million people.

A social enterprise does:

  • Make its money from trading—that is, selling goods and services.
  • Reinvest its profits back into the business or social mission.
  • Have a social mission at its heart—what difference it is trying to make, who it is aiming to help and how it is going about doing this.
  • Pay fair salaries to staff rather than rely on volunteers, though like any organization, it may need voluntary help to get started

It does not:

  • Exist to make profit for shareholders.
  • Exist to make its owners wealthy.
  • Rely on volunteering or grants to stay afloat—though, again, it may need support in the early days

—Ruth McCambridge