How can businesses leverage social value to attract and retain customers and win public sector contracts in 2023

In conversations with local authorities, I often get asked specifically what businesses can do within their region to support social value. What can you do at a local level?

It seems to me that the desire from the public sector for businesses to provide services that also deliver social value has never been more important. But how can businesses demonstrate their value to potential public sector partners?

What is social value?

Social value puts a financial value on the economic, social and environmental contribution a company can make when delivering a product or service. This could include how the company will provide better jobs for minority groups, generate opportunities for businesses, or reduce carbon emissions over the course of a contract. This is then linked to commercial decision-making when a government body is awarding a contract and calculated to measure the impact, nationally or locally, depending on the governmental remit.

The Social Value Act came into force in 2013

It’s not new. The Social Value Act came into force in 2013. But it wasn’t until 2021 that it was implemented as a standard by all major central government bodies. A minimum weighting of 10% on social value measures must be applied when public bodies award contracts. This is transforming the way public services are procured and is ultimately helping government deliver them smarter and more effectively.

Being a purpose-driven business should be embedded in your day-to-day. It must connect you as a company and make a difference in customer conversations and employee engagement.

Given we see Social Value as having customer relevance, employee relevance and corporate relevance what are the steps a company can take to incorporate social value into their business?

7 steps to social value:

Use the social value frameworks

These clearly set out the social value priorities and deliverables expected for any contract bid so it is a good starting point to map your businesses existing programmes to identify opportunities and gaps. There are two social value frameworks used by central and local government. The first is the Social Value Model, used by central government and TOMs (Themes, Outcomes, Measures), used by local government.

Be authentic

With 200+ social value indicators knowing where to focus can be daunting. It is important to remember you cannot respond to every societal need and your organisation will be most effective if it focuses on a relevant issue. As a leading connectivity enabler and provider, one of the main issues we have been tackling is digital exclusion as it is something we can make a real difference on. As part of this we have leveraged our everyone.connected campaign which has provided free connectivity to over 1 million digitally excluded people. We’ve done this by programmes like business.connected – a free platform for SMEs that we have created to demystify digitally transforming their business through training and education.

Data, data, data

Data insights into who your initiatives are helping and where are essential to demonstrate that your work is benefitting those who need it most. This has been hugely valuable for us in ensuring we’re delivering social value to the right people in the right locations. We’ve used these insights to understand the issue of digital exclusion and to scale our everyone.connected programme to maximise its contribution to society and businesses across the UK. We’ve used these insights to explore scaling our work experience programmes to reach an even wider pool of recruits.

Think ahead

We had a tendency to talk about our impact in the past tense i.e. what impact we had in the previous year, but we are now needing to become more goals driven and understand what we can deliver over the course of the contract. This could be in 3 -5 years’ time, so we are now thinking further ahead when it comes to our social value programmes. The benefits of this are that it drives longer-term thinking and commitment to deliver social value beyond the here and now.

Think local

Your social value contribution needs to be in the area designated by your customer so it is important that you can show how you will deliver social value within this community. We initially looked at our socio-economic contribution on a macro-level across the UK, but social value helped us to shine a spotlight on our impact in local communities.

Don’t think you have to tackle it alone

Social and environmental issues are complex and no one is expecting one business to solve it all. By collaborating you can maximise your benefit to society and demonstrate an even stronger social value impact. For example, to tackle the digital divide, we have been partnering with the Trussell Trust, Barnardo’s and The Good Things Foundation who interact with vulnerable people every day, to reach our new target of providing free connectivity to 4m people.

This is not a box-ticking exercise

Social value is not ever something to do just to tick boxes, if you approach it as such, you’re not only getting off to a bad start, but you are more likely to fail – at winning contract bids and at delivering your social value programme. Delivering social value requires a long-term commitment to addressing a societal need, a passion to supporting your community and credible evidence of how you’re doing so.

Social value is not going to change an organisation overnight. Your approach must evolve as you learn lessons along the way. Make sure that you are embracing and delivering maximum social value for customers and communities.

We believe that 2023 will be the year that social value comes to the fore, and businesses will need to prove that they are positive contributors to society in order to attract and retain customers, especially when the public purse is squeezed even more.

Written by Nick Gliddon, Director of Business, Vodafone UK


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