5 Examples of Social Enterprises Partnering with the Corporate Sector to Build Back Better

Carly Bainbridge

If you’re a social entrepreneur, you likely have two driving objectives: growth and impact. Growing your operations will grow your revenues, and growing your revenues will grow your impact in the community and create more world-positive jobs. So how can you get this virtuous cycle started? 

You could raise capital from impact investors, or seek grants and donations. But there is often a better way. As we shared in this blog post, partnering with the corporate sector allows you to build sustainable revenue streams without sacrificing equity — while embedding sustainability into a more equitable and regenerative economy. 

Globally, there have been massive increases in spending by corporations to make their global supply, service, and distribution chains more sustainable and equitable. Social enterprises are uniquely positioned to help drive that change, while growing their impact in the process. To make this more real, let’s take a look at some examples of social enterprises that have leveraged this opportunity to accelerate their growth and impact through corporate partnerships: 

Abahizi Rwanda’s partnership with Kate Spade

Absahizi Rwanda is a premiere bag manufacturing company with a social mission: providing high quality products for the global fashion industry while empowering its (mostly female) employees to transform their lives and communities. Together with local NGO partners, Absahizi invests in the well-being of its workforce through Vocational Training and Life Skills Empowerment programs, which include topics like financial literacy, English for business, health, and leadership skills. “Our business and our community are stronger when the women we work with are empowered with the agency and resources to benefit themselves,” the company shares. Many Abahizi employees become leaders in the community, in turn empowering others and boosting the local economy. Since partnering with Kate Spade to integrate sustainability into its supply chain, Abahizi has continued to grow by employing over 200 women since 2015.

Greyston Bakery and Ben and Jerrys

Greyston Bakery is a social enterprise that is committed to providing jobs and job training for low-income residents of Yonkers, New York. It’s revolutionary open-door hiring policy gives anyone who wants to work a chance to do so, regardless of educational background, work history, or past social barriers like incarceration, homelessness, or drug use. There are no background checks or pre-screening of any kind—when a position becomes available, the next person on the waiting list gets it, no questions asked. In the 1980s, Greyston partnered with Ben and Jerry’s ice cream to supply brownies for their famous Half Baked ice cream (among other flavors). Through this partnership, Greyston has been able to create even more jobs for individuals who may otherwise be excluded from the job market, and the bakery carries the distinction of being New York’s first B-Certified business!

VisionSpring and Warby Parker

VisionSpring is a social enterprise working to make affordable, quality glasses accessible to the 2.5 billion people worldwide who need them. Through its affordable eyeglasses, vision screening and training programs, VisionSpring helps public, private, and social sector partners bring clear vision to their communities as a means to improve daily functioning, productivity and income earning potential for a more prosperous life. In 2011, VisionSpring solidified a nonprofit partnership with socially conscious glasses corporation Warby Parker, launching the Buy a Pair, Give a Pair program. Through the program, For each pair of glasses Warby Parker sells, it donates the cash equivalent to VisionSpring to further its entrepreneurial model of training individuals from low-income backgrounds to provide affordable screening and glasses to others in their community. Since then, VisionSpring has been granted the Skoll Award for Entrepreneurship and is the three-time winner of the Fast Company/Monitor Group Social Capitalist Award. The success of this program has inspired Warby Parker to continue partnering with social enterprises such as the LV Prasad Eye Institute (LVPEI) in Hyderabad, India.

VisionSpring training individuals to provide affordable screening and glasses to others in their communities

Other Half Processing and Timberland

Other Half Processing is a social enterprise that produces hides and leather in a sustainable and environmentally conscious way. By using byproducts from sustainably raised animals, Other Half Processing ensures full utilization and zero-waste while at the same time directly supporting the farmers, ranchers and Native American communities raising the animals. They focus on the importance of starting at the root of the food production chain to ensure healthier eating and living habits while preserving the environment. At the end of last year, Other Half Processing partnered with global outdoor lifestyle brand Timberland to supply the raw material for its supply chain, advancing Timberland’s commitment to more sustainable fashion and Other Half Processing’s ability to support even more regenerative farmers in the community.

PÅTÅR Coffee and IKEA

PÅTÅR coffee is a social enterprise with the slogan “single-origin coffee with a purpose”. Based in the White Nile region of Uganda, PÅTÅR sources its beans from a network of around 13,000 smallholder farmers, about 50% of which are women. By providing these coffee farmers with a steady income, PÅTÅR is able to source sustainably farmed coffee while creating opportunities for the farmers who grow them to achieve financial stability and improve quality of life in their communities. In 2012, PÅTÅR partnered with IKEA to provide the coffee beans the company uses and sells in its store cafes, creating even more sustainable revenue streams for smallholder farmers in Uganda while helping IKEA realize its goal of sustainability throughout its supply chain.

Do you have more great examples of social enterprise and corporate-sector partnerships? If so, send us an email at info@movingworlds.org and we’ll add it to our next piece.

No single entity can solve our most complex economic, social, and environmental problems on its own. To deliver impact at scale, we must build partnerships that advance individual and collective goals. As these examples show, partnering with the corporate sector to integrate your solutions into global value chains is an effective way to catalyze your own growth and impact while making our broader global system more sustainable. 

If your social enterprise is looking for support, our new S-GRID can help you – and your team – build the skills, know-how, and connections to create sustainable revenue streams so you can grow and achieve your mission faster. Thanks to generous sponsorship from SAP, participation in the program is free for 2020. Learn more and apply here.