For years, some of us have mused about some kind of national system to drive sales to social enterprises. The basic idea is that there are government agencies and socially-minded companies who might be willing to purchase large quantities of goods and services from social enterprises, provided someone would identify qualified suppliers and make it easy to order from them.
While such a national system is still a ways off, the first tentative steps were taken in this direction by Social Venture Partners of Rhode Island, who recently launched their Buy With Heart program.
With a lot of volunteer help and a barebones budget, they identified more than 100 social enterprises in Rhode Island, mostly nonprofits, organized them into logical categories, and created the above web site to present their offerings. That by itself was an impressive accomplishment: the first-ever statewide directory of social enterprises.
They are now in the process of developing promotional strategies to drive traffic to this website, which would then (they hope) lead to demonstrable sales increases. They are also now developing a methodology for identifying and vetting additional social enterprises to include to their directory, particularly for-profit companies, which is no small task to undertake. Finally, they are exploring strategies to monetize this work so it will become self-funding.
Here in the Rockies, SEA Colorado (local chapter of the Social Enterprise Alliance) is also in the process of developing a statewide SE directory. We intend to learn from the Buy With Heart program, and possibly develop some kind of partnership with SVP-RI to build on their expertise. The eventual goal of course would be a national directory and procurement strategy for social enterprises.
Now, for the first time, there seems to be some movement in that direction. Yeah!