The Social Enterprise Association’s latest survey findings reveal mainstream companies’ willingness to purchase from social enterprises (SEs) and even, provide in-kind support to this emerging group of businesses with social missions in their path to growth in non-commercial ways. The Social Enterprise Association is an umbrella organisation tasked with the role of promoting social entrepreneurship and social enterprise in Singapore, so as to bring about positive social impact and an inclusive community among Singaporeans. It focuses on supporting peer-learning within the social enterprise community, providing capacity-building programmes and business services, and fostering synergistic partnerships among key stakeholders, namely government, businesses and people sector to build up individual enterprises and the sector at large.The Corporate Perception Survey on Social Enterprises was conducted by final year students of NUS Business School on behalf of the SE Association. They were guided by the School’s Asia Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy (ACSEP).
The main objective of the survey was, firstly, to investigate the awareness level of what SEs are among large enterprises (LEs) and small-medium enterprises (SMEs) and secondly, their willingness to be a market for SE products and services as well as to provide in-kind and monetary support for the growth of SEs. Telephone interviews were conducted with 155 companies that were randomly selected from the directory of the Singapore 1000 and Singapore SME 1000 from December 2012 to March 2013.
Key findings include:
- On awareness about social enterprises: Among the 155 respondents, 34% claimed that they were aware of SEs but only 14% of all respondents were able to recall at least one SE correctly. Between the LE and SME categories, a larger percentage of SMEs (72%) were not aware of SEs as compared to LEs (59%).
- On the objectives of social enterprise: Among the companies that said they were aware of SEs, a majority of them correctly identified ‘Develop solutions to address social, cultural and/or environmental issues’ as an objective of SEs. The second most recognised objective was ‘Use surplus income to contribute back to society’, again, another legitimate objective of SEs. ‘Encourage staff to do community work’ which is not an objective of SEs was the third most cited statement.
- On purchasing from social enterprises: Among the 155 respondents, 13% were buyers of SE products and services, 21% were ready to buy from SEs (‘ready buyers’) and the remaining 66% said they were not prepared to buy from SEs yet (‘non-buyers’).
- On preferred modes for purchase from social enterprises: ‘Direct sales’ and ‘Retail Outlets’ were the most common distribution channels used by mainstream companies to purchase products or services from SEs and they were also the top two preferred distribution channels. In addition, ‘Internet’ was also identified as another preferred channel among the buyers and ready buyers.
- On the motivation to buy from SEs: Among the buyers and ready buyers of SE products and services, 94% indicated that ‘Contribute back to society’ was a motivating factor for their purchases while 75% indicated ‘Believed in the mission of a SE’ was a motivating factor.
- Other factors shaping purchases from SEs: The most important factors that influence corporate purchasing decisions from SEs were ‘Quality of product or service’ ‘Price’ and ‘Need for product or service’. This is similar to factors that shape purchases from regular businesses.
- On why respondents might not have purchased anything from SEs: Among those who stated that they were not yet prepared to purchase from SEs, 62% indicated that ‘None of their products or services provided fulfills my company’s needs’ and 36% indicated that ‘I still do not fully understand what a SE is’ as reasons for not purchasing from SEs within the next 6 months.
- On other forms of support for SEs: Among the 155 respondents, 49% had indicated that they are willing to explore ways to support SEs in the future. ‘Providing funding and donations’ and ‘Providing sponsorships’ were the most common and preferred methods used by mainstream companies that indicated they would like to support SEs in other ways than purchasing from them.
The survey findings will be used by the SE Association to facilitate in-kind support that mainstream companies can provide to SEs. The Association recently launched a matching service under the Social Enterprise Partner Programme to encourage mainstream companies to provide mentorship and skills directly to SEs as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes.
Oslwang Asia and Edible Gardens are an example of a meaningful collaboration between business and social enterprise under the Social Enterprise Partner Programme. They are currently working together on a new urban farm project with Olswang adding support through volunteering, corporate connections; fundraising and general assistance to Edible Garden’s forward thinking eco-friendly plans, added SEA in a release.
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