Expert opinions, STARTUPS

Full-cycle social responsibility: how the “help by buying” chain is built

Entrepreneurship in Russia has always sought to help people. Even more than a hundred years ago merchants and industrialists built schools, hospitals, orphanages, opened museums. In today’s world, support for people from business was named social responsibility.

The trend towards the manifestation of social responsibility is entrenched in modern society. Passion to the society in which we live, determines the behavior and interests of people, and therefore of business. Many consumers today want to spend money not only carefully and wisely, but also participating in the “help by buying” concept. It is now important for the buyer not only to consume, but also be to useful, and business gives such an opportunity.

Representatives of large corporations are also moving in this concept today. But, perhaps an integral, and in many respects a fundamental link in the chain of  social responsibility is small social entrepreneurship and inclusive business.

Gifts with benefits

BuySocial project brings together on its platform corporate manufacturers of gifts, merch and office products with a social mission. Ecologically pure goods – tea, sweets, dishes, candles, textiles – are made with own hands of people from socially vulnerable groups of the population. Out of 60 manufacturers more than half are enterprises employing retirees, people with disabilities and just people in difficult life situation. It is difficult for them to find a job in the open labor market due to health, age or place of residence, for example, in endangered remote villages. It’s hard for an ordinary employer to include such employees in the production process, but social enterprises create special conditions: they hire curators and psychologists, adapting technologies.

The creative association “Circle” employs blind people. They produce beautiful ceramics. They work without a potter’s wheel, twisting clay into flagella and laying them out in the form of cups, drinking bowls, mugs or plates, and even working exceptionally tactile, they can work creatively, creating unique patterns. In the “Circle” people with different health features complement each other.

For example, some things that are beyond the control of the blind are done by people with mental features. Then artists who can see but don’t hear, paint these products. In BuySocial, we only direct, inspire and we show what is popular with customers, what trends exist in ceramics and design.

Or, for example, a social enterprise from the Sverdlovsk region “Baby Turysh” saves the village of the same name from extinction. It gives work to the elderly people, creating infrastructure. A playground and summerhouse have already been built in the village, plans include a community center. The elderly produce caramel and natural honey products, receiving a decent salary. For them, work is not only about money, although earnings are a good increase in pension, but also the opportunity to get away from feelings of despair, communicating and feeling themselves needed.

At the same time, social enterprises conduct charitable activities. Some are originally created with funds to earn money for the needs of the organization through, for example, a sale of souvenirs. So, the buyer of high-quality ChariTea tea sends 20% of proceeds to the “Second Breathing” Charitable Foundation on humanitarian aid for the elderly and poor families in small cities. Stylish leather products brand The-Sneg lists 15% of orders with BuySocial to the Yablochko Foundation, which helps socialize people with a disability.

BuySocial takes care of nature and works also with suppliers who produce goods from recycled materials: waste paper, glass, plastic and tetrapak. In addition, another mission of BuySocial is to preserve culture.

Platform partners with a social enterprise that bakes gingerbread with Mezen painting. It is traditional for the Arkhangelsk region, and in past it could be found on kegs, spinning wheels and other products throughout Russia. Laconic white-red-black patterns look beautiful and authentic today. Now the pastry chef is putting them on gingerbread according to a traditional recipe of the Russian North so that people do not lose the Mezen painting and can make contact with art.

Buying “good”

Major buyers of the BuySocial platform are marketers as corporate gifts help companies build positive image, maintaining loyalty of customers and partners, sometimes employees. By purchasing such a souvenir, tea set or bound scarf, they have triple benefits: they please partners and form a positive image, they give income to unprotected segments of the population and they improve the lives of those in need.

In this sense, purchases from social enterprises are an actual way of maintaining the loyalty of stakeholders, the opportunity for business representatives to feel the added meaning of their activities (both those who buys, and those who are given). Ethical gifts with environmental or social component do not require additional costs, but they are definitely touching and inspiring, they will not go unnoticed, will not end up in the trash can.

Business is about profit

Social business is still a business. In addition to the “good” component, it has also an entrepreneurial one – it must make a profit. There is an opinion, that you can’t make money on good, but that’s not the case. Money is needed to scale production, which means giving work to more people, investing in solving social problems and supporting the community.

Naturally, everything should be organized ethically and transparently: suppliers should receive decent incomes and pay fair salaries to employees.

Balance is important in social business. Some investors may be providing pressure on managers to think more about money, not social component. Or vice versa, the ideologists of the public mission agitate to withdraw profits from the project, trying to solve problems at once. To avoid this, at least 50% of profits should be directed to social and environmental goals, local community support or reinvestment into the social business itself.

BuySocial is reinvesting all revenue this year. Thanks to financial airbag in spring and summer, when there were few orders due to crisis phenomena, the company did not stop. It worked and prepared the range of gifts for the New Year to provide suppliers with orders in autumn and winter.

Thanks to social entrepreneurs who supply ethical products and goods with meaning, the concept of ethical production and consumption is realized, in which all three participants in the chain not only do not harm society and the environment, but also bring real benefits. People with disabilities and outback residents can now earn income from production of unique and demanded goods; buyers who care purchase goods with a social or environmental component, not only consuming, but also serving as drivers for the development of social business; and social entrepreneurs receive ethical profits and give the opportunity to people from vulnerable groups of the population to receive income, self-development and feeling of own value.

By Lyubov Ermolaeva, Managing Partner of BuySocial

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