Building partnerships to build a movement

Week 4 of Social Enterprise Futures is about how we build markets to build a movement and we started with a session focused on partnerships asking the question how we can work together to raise the profile of the social enterprise sector.

June O’Sullivan, Chief Executive of the London Early Years Foundation, chaired a panel which featured Steve Murrells, the Chief Executive of the Co-op, Alison Reid – Chief Executive of pioneering dental social enterprise Community Dental Services and Imran Rasul – Chief Procurement Officer at Nationwide Building Society.

The importance of partnership working

“purpose is becoming the new zeitgeist on how businesses run their operations” – Steve Murrells

Steve Murrells began his contribution by talking about the connections the Co-op has with the wider social enterprise movement. He said that what is common for all social enterprises in purpose – having purpose at our core means that we are doing business differently. As he put it “in simple terms it’s about putting more back in than you take out”.

Central to Co-ops partnership working is community, working both in the digital and physical space to support the communities it operates in. He mentioned the Co-operate online platform which allows groups of people to connect with each other and their Match-Making service which helps small businesses apply for funding and employ apprenticeships. He pointed to their partnership with social enterprise Hubbub, recently featured in a TV advert, where communities could source food from Hubbub fridges. He also mentioned Co-ops network of 1,000 member pioneers – a “Co-op army” of people on the ground supporting initiatives around issues such as youth, climate and access to food. It’s vital to Steve that the Co-op is embedded in the lives of its members and customers. You can find out more about the ways the Co-op can support social enterprises at the bottom of this piece.

Partnerships to improve community health

Community Dental Services CIC (CDS) is an employee-owned social enterprise dentist with a mission to improve oral health communities, striving to ensure everybody has access to dental care. It is a pioneering social enterprise and CEO, Alison Reid talked about how it is spreading its mission to ever more people through the partnerships it creates.

For example she spoke of a collaboration with social enterprises Leading Lives and Thurrock Lifestyle Solutions to co-create a toolkit to support clients with learning disabilities to improve their oral health. It is also worth checking out CDS’s ground-breaking Driving for Change partnership with social enterprise Change Please where converted London Buses are used to provide support and advice to people experiencing homelessness, including dental support.  Alison was keen to promote networks, such as Social Enterprise UK, who are key to facilitating the introductions and conversations that can lead to the realisation of these amazing initiatives.

The power of procurement

Imran Rasul focused on how Nationwide is using its procurement to support more social enterprises. He spoke at length about their involvement in Social Enterprise UK’s Buy Social Corporate Challenge – a programme working with big businesses to open up their supply chains to social enterprise suppliers. Through introductions made through SEUK Nationwide now buys from social enterprises including Change Please, NEMI Teas and Belu Water.

Imran did say that it is easier to work with social enterprises in some areas such as catering and harder when it comes to areas such as technology. Scale is an issue he identified in preventing social enterprises from working in partnerships with bigger organisations but he did mention that Nationwide is keen to offer coaching to help social enterprises scale-up. Where Nationwide’s also leverage their position with tier-1 suppliers, encouraging them to engage with social enterprises.

Nationwide is itself a social enterprise and Imran believes that social enterprises need to support each other and asked the question “how can we do more as a social enterprise community to do more and buy from each other?” This will not only build a stronger sense of community within the sector but also help businesses get into a position where they are better placed to work with larger buyers.

Would you like to unlock the power of your organisation’s everyday spend to benefit wider society and the environment?

Social procurement – the sourcing of goods and services from social enterprise suppliers – is an effective way to do more with your spend. Here at SEUK, we are launching a new initiative that will give your organisation the tools and resources to #buysocial to increase your organisation’s #socialvalue.

Our Buy Social Corporate Challenge programme has already helped businesses direct over £165 million of procurement spend to social enterprises. This new initiative will support many other organisations of all sizes, to make an impact through their supply chain, benefitting people and planet. 

If you are interested in finding out more, fill out this expression of interest form and we will be in touch with you soon.

Ways of working with the Co-op

There are many ways to work with Co-op to support change in your community:

  • Co-operate, our online community centre, brings people together make good things happen. Anyone can use Co-operate for free. It’s for people who care about their community, join forces and get things done. Social enterprises can get involved at
  • Member Pioneers are our community connectors that increase co-operation across communities. We have nearly a thousand Member Pioneers working across the four nations of the UK. They bring together Co-op members, colleagues and local causes to make communities a better place to work, play, live and learn​. Social enterprises can find their local Member Pioneer at
  • The Co-op Local Community Fund supports projects across the UK that our members care about. Every time our members buy selected Co-op branded products and services, we give local causes a helping hand. Applications will open Spring 2022 at 
  • Social enterprises tackling climate change in the food and farming sectors can apply for funding of up to £100k from the Carbon Innovation Fund – Co-op’s new partnership with its charity, the Co-op Foundation. Interested groups can read more at