Social affair? Or social enterprise? Events excel at the former, but what is the latter? And what benefits might social enterprise present to your event?
What is Social Enterprise?
Ever sat back and wondered: how can I use my event powers for good? If you have, you’re adopting social enterprise thinking.
Social enterprises are businesses whose primary purpose is the common good. They use the methods and disciplines of business and the power of the marketplace to advance their social, environmental and human justice agendas. (Social Enterprise Alliance)
They are a growing business sector, although data on the size and nature of social enterprise is debated. Government data in the UK estimates over 70,000 businesses identify as social enterprises, contributing £18.5 billion to the economy and employing almost one million (Source). The growth of B Corps to include over 1,100 organizations in 35 countries and 121 industries shows the idea is not unique to one region or sector. The collective goal of business that betters is attractive, and catching on!
Where Does Social Enterprise Operate at Events?
Purpose. Events themselves can be social enterprise as many events exist to create community value. The motto that when we meet we change the world expresses our aspiration to host experiences that generate improvements in the world we live in. Social enterprise events might be used to:
- Fundraise for special causes, such as runs, galas or auctions.
- Raise the profile of social and environmental issues, through rallies or concerts.
- Solve community problems, through dialogue or hack-a-thons.
Purchasing. But social enterprise is not just about our event purpose. After all, many events don’t expressly exist to create public good. But that doesn't mean they can’t help make a better world by supporting social enterprise. Use of social enterprise vendors at your event can say a lot about what your stand for and care about. It shows you’re not only practical in providing event logistics, but thoughtful in aligning your supply chain with customer, association member or community priorities. While it may not be possible to find a social enterprise to support all your logistics, there are many emerging examples:
- Destinations that promote awareness about sustainability issues through community projects, such as Copenhagen’s #BeeSustain initiative.
- Event supplies that are made from upcycled, or reclaimed waste materials, such as Repurpose America’s upcycled name badges or Looptworks bags and event shirts from waste textiles.
- Promotional products that are manufactured by individuals in vulnerable or minority groups, such as Common Thread attendee bags and Prosperity Candles.
- Catering companies that provide skill development opportunities for individuals who may face barriers to employment.
- Event hydration stations that reduce disposable bottled water use and contribute funds to clean water projects, such as Frank Water.
- Site selection and booking tools that also give-back to local community groups, such as Hotels for Hope.
Partnership. The examples above are ready-made social enterprise solutions for your event. However, don’t discount the opportunity to challenge existing suppliers to create new product and service options that adopt social enterprise-thinking. For example, can your caterer develop relationships with farms and distributors that rescue less-than-perfect produce on an ongoing basis? Could your exhibit builder develop a take-back and reuse program for assets? Sometimes simply asking an existing supplier how or if they could develop a social enterprise solution for a specific event challenge can motivate them to new community partnerships that benefit you, your supplier, the community and other event organizers.
How Can Social Enterprise Benefit your Event?
Although many planners want to integrate corporate social responsibility efforts into their event, it can be intimidating and time-consuming to develop a special project that achieves CSR goals. Sometimes it can be equally effective to apply a social enterprise filter to event purchasing instead. The beauty of this approach is it focusses on what you have to do anyway, and enables an added layer of value to be gained. This value includes:
1. Brand. Building your event brand by demonstrating how your organization is using its buying power in a better way, to build a better world.
2. Values. Showing how purchasing practices are “putting your money where your mouth is”, by truly aligning procurement with other organizational priorities and values, such as education or conservation.
3. Experience. Enriching the experience for attendees by adding a layer of storytelling, so a dinner is no longer just a meal, but a rich experience that connects them with the destination and food producers who live there.
To realize these benefits it’s important to communicate purchasing practices to attendees. This message may not be the main content of your event, but it can be communicated through a variety of ways, such as:
- Event web site
- Mobile event application activity feed
- Social media
- Labels on event materials, such as t-shirts and conference bags
- Menu cards at banquet functions
- Walk-in slides for general sessions
- Onsite video
- Onsite signage or interpretive displays (ideally digital or recyclable)
- Social enterprise tradeshow showcase
From green, to sustainable, CSR and now social enterprise: we’ve ridden a lot of waves in the event industry that collectively drive us to create public good through our events. Social enterprise is an important newer trend that accepts better world and better business do not have to be mutually exclusive.
Adapting social enterprise thinking to what you do can help inspire new purpose to your event and add value to event purchasing.