How your office water cooler could save lives around the world

  • One year anniversary of groundbreaking initiative seeing leading corporates aim to use their purchasing power to spend £1bn with social enterprises by 2020.
  • Some of UK’s biggest businesses using everyday spend to supporting people and communities
  • So far £19.8 million has been spent connecting 125 social enterprises with major corporates.
  • Public facing advertising campaign launched at major London stations to encourage more companies to join the Challenge.

The Buy Social Corporate Challenge, launched at Downing Street last year, is celebrating its one year anniversary. This ground-breaking initiative is seeing some of the UK’s largest businesses use their spending power to effect positive change in communities, both in the UK and abroad by committing to collectively spend £1 billion with social enterprises by 2020.

In the last year founding partners Interserve, Johnson and Johnson, PwC, Santander, Wates and Zurich have been joined by Amey and Robertson Group.

As businesses seek to become more socially responsible in how they operate, the money companies spend through their supply chains has become a key area in which they can have a positive impact. From working with a software testing social enterprise providing sustainable employment for people with autism, to sourcing water coolers from a company which donates all its profits to clean water projects, the Challenge is showing the incredible impact businesses can have if they shift their supply chain spend towards social enterprises.

Social enterprises are businesses which reinvest the majority of their profits to tackle pressing social or environmental issues. Through purchasing from them businesses are helping address social inequalities and create a more inclusive economy.

The Corporate Challenge is an initiative run by Social Enterprise UK, the membership body for social enterprises with the support of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Prince of Wales’ charity Business in the Community. One of its primary aims is to demonstrate that businesses in any sector can buy from social enterprises, going beyond traditional conceptions of CSR to embed them into core business spend.

One year impact report

The one year evaluation of the campaign published by Social Enterprise UK shows that as well as achieving £19.8 million in spend, the Challenge has led to 125 social enterprises being connected to major corporates, the training of 35 procurement professionals in how best to work with social enterprises and an increase in awareness of the sector across the staff teams of the corporate partners.

Getting more businesses engaged

The aim is now to encourage more businesses from across different sectors to sign up to the Challenge to achieve the ambitious target of £1 billion spend by 2020. To complement the one year anniversary and raise the campaign’s profile there will be a two-week advertising campaign at key London interchanges as well as grass-roots campaigners positioned outside these stations. Using the hashtag #Letsbuysocial workers in the City will be encouraged to tag their workplaces to ask them to join the growing number of businesses buying goods and services from social enterprises.

Peter Holbrook, Chief Executive of Social Enterprise UK said:

“The ambition behind the Corporate Challenge is huge – we’re asking some of the UK’s biggest businesses to change their habits and use their everyday procurement spend to meet social ends. It’s inspiring to see that one year on the Challenge has seen more partners sign up, more money spent and more lives enhanced. Our partners have spent a significant sum in the first year of the initiative but if we’re to hit our target of £1 billion we’re going to have to engage more businesses, and raise awareness of the Challenge across many more industries.

Whether its stationery, IT services, printing or cleaning – the Challenge has shown that whatever sector your business operates in there are thousands of social enterprises out there who you can buy from. We remain determined to find the first retailer, the first tech company, or the first law firm to unleash their spending power for good.”

John Cully, Chief Procurement Officer at Amey, said:

“Amey are delighted to be joining the Buy Social Corporate Challenge, an initiative that sees a group of businesses choosing to leverage their significant buying power to support, grow and trade with social enterprises. We’re committed to working with organisations like SEUK and their partners to help us connect to social businesses that we know bring about positive change in our local communities – ultimately helping us to deliver our goal at Amey of creating better places to live, work and travel.”

Tim Haywood, Interserve’s Group Finance Director and Head of Sustainability, said:

“We have a long-standing commitment to creating social value and making a significant contribution to the communities in which we operate. Interserve is proud to be a partner of the Buy Social Corporate Challenge and to celebrate its one-year anniversary. Our collaboration with Social Enterprise UK and Business in the Community continues to build an extensive social enterprise support programme and helps ensure that our corporate spending has the greatest possible social impact.”

Hugh Chamberlain, UK Corporate Social Responsibility Lead, Johnson & Johnson said:

“At Johnson & Johnson our mission is to help people live, longer, healthier, happier lives. As part of this, our Social Impact through Procurement Programme supports the purchase of goods and services from social enterprises, in particular, those employing people furthest from the job market.

Our philosophy is for every pound we spend; can we spend that £1 in a way that will also better society Johnson & Johnson is proud be a founding member of the Buy Social Corporate Challenge.  Buying socially can have a really positive impact on the communities in which we live and want to encourage other businesses to do the same.”

Jeremy Willis, Director of Procurement, PwC said:

“Signing up to the corporate challenge supports our purpose – ‘to build trust in society and solve important problems’ and allows us to further enhance social mobility and the environmental value we’re delivering to our communities. We’re delighted to be part of the challenge.”

Martin Dick, Group Procurement & Supply Chain Director, Robertson said:

“Through our work we transform buildings, infrastructure, environments and communities. Our objective is to generate social value by working collaboratively with our stakeholders to create maximum economic, social and environmental added value. Our procurement process actively considers our impact on local businesses and communities demonstrating and encouraging fair work practices, and responsible sourcing to deliver a legacy beyond our project lifecycle.

Throughout our business we actively support and encourage business start-ups, social enterprises and promote the benefits of supply chain diversity. We are delighted to be able to support the Buy Social Challenge and encourage our wider supply chain to engage and create a positive impact in our communities”.

Fiona Tyler, Director of Cost Management & Procurement, Santander said:

“Our aim at Santander is to help people and businesses prosper. The Buy Social Corporate Challenge is a great initiative and a way to focus on our aim of a sustainable procurement plan that delivers long term opportunities to the social enterprise sector.”

Rachel Woolliscroft, Head of Sustainability, Wates said:

“Wates is a one of the UK’s largest family owned construction, development and property services companies. We believe business can be a force for good by creating a lasting legacy in the communities in which we work. Buying Social and working alongside other Challenge partners presents a great opportunity to deliver this legacy. Trading with Social Enterprises encourages investment in local communities and promotes a diverse supply chain, enabling us to make a positive impact.”

Janette Evans-Turner, Head of Procurement, UK and IOM Group Operations, Zurich said:

Like most global organisations, there is an ingrained business culture within Zurich. But, the Buy Social ethos is completely aligned with the Zurich Commitment and helps deliver our promise to our four key stakeholders – customers, people, shareholders and communities.”


Notes to Editors

For more information, contact the Social Enterprise UK press office: or 020 3589 4959

More information about the initiative can be found at 

Copies of the one year impact report can be sent on request and will also be available at from the morning of Thursday 11 May. To receive a copy of the report email or 020 3589 4959.

Social Enterprise UK

Together with our members we are the voice for social enterprise in the UK. We do research, provide information and tools, share knowledge, build networks, raise awareness and campaign to create a business environment where social enterprises thrive.  Our members range from local grass-roots organisations to multi-million pound businesses.