17 January 2023
Topics in this article
  • Capability & Skills
  • ESG
  • People

Social value is not just a catchphrase; it’s about delivering enhanced benefits for the greater good from economic, social, and environmental perspectives. It’s imperative for organizations to consider it both internally and within third-party contracts. There are many options to do this within the workforce, such as targeting underrepresented groups or areas for recruitment or using apprenticeships to grow new talent. Leverage your supplier contracts to deliver social value and improve your brand profile.

Imagine the scene: your director comes into your office (or calls you on Teams) and says, “We need to include social value in our contracts.” “Well, what do you mean by that?” you ask, and they explain the concept of social value being about maximizing the positive environmental, social, and economic impacts of your program whilst managing, reducing, or eliminating negative impacts. “If we get this right, we can make the world a better place,” they continue in a serious tone, “but additionally, we can enhance our reputation in the market for both customers and employees.”

Social value is clearly a good thing, then, you think. You look at your stack of third-party contracts that provide an extended workforce in delivery and wonder – exactly how do I do that? How do I incorporate social value into the contracts that provide my extended workforce?

If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone in asking the question. And the blank canvas of social value could be filled with possibilities. Where do you start?

  • Find out what your company says externally about social value priorities. Your organization may already have made public commitments to improving the greater good. These commitments can be considered priority avenues to explore. You’ll find them in investor reports, annual reports, and on your website. You may also have existing charity partnerships, highlighting areas your organization is keen to promote or employees who already volunteer for causes that they care about. [And if you’re not saying anything publicly, you’ll need to obtain senior-level support and direction – this is a huge not-to-be-missed opportunity for your organization. Do you know what the needs and priorities of both the communities you operate in and your customers are?]
  • Look at your workforce profile. When you read your annual report – are you noting diversity and inclusion issues? Are you training and upskilling? What does that say (or not say!) to prospective employee candidates and investors? What do your workforce statistics indicate about the makeup of your population? Are you counting the extended workforce? And what groups are underrepresented in your workforce?
  • Map the internal initiatives already in play (if any) at your organization. For example, you may have teams already in place looking to improve the diversity and inclusion in your permanent workforce. After all, such efforts are known to bring business benefits. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) fundamentals factsheet [1] notes that openness to diversity, inclusion, and equality “leads to enhanced innovation, creativity, productivity, reputation, engagement, and business results.” Another example is where you could be making use of apprenticeships to grow your talent. Map these initiatives for consideration in the extended workforce.
  • Review the lifecycle of what you’re buying in your stack of contracts. Francesca Livesey [2], a social value practitioner, describes this lifecycle as looking at the inputs and outputs needed to make the product or deliver the service you’re buying and what the impact is on those who engage with those products or services. What people and workforce elements are required in different phases of that lifecycle? If you’re going to market, what can you communicate about your social value priorities? Consider how you would evaluate supplier responses against those priorities; careful questioning and weighting are required [3].
  • Speak to your suppliers about the art of the possible. Let’s say you’re buying a service that has 300 people involved in the delivery. Your supplier manages the employee lifecycle – from attraction and recruitment to offboarding – for that population. Could they incorporate social value elements from your priority list into your service delivery? For example, could they match the types of campaigns your organization is already running for the in-house teams to enhance diversity in the extended workforce?

Here are some target areas for consideration:

  • Recruitment campaigns. Can your supplier advertise locally or within diverse networks, to promote improved gender equality, find candidates with a disability, neurodiverse candidates, or former military? What about ex-offenders, NEETs [4], or refugees? Consider you may have to adapt your programs to cater to any extra needs of populations currently underrepresented.
  • Candidate Sourcing. Are you working with groups to help the unemployed to find work, such as JobCentre Plus[5] in the UK and American Job Centers [6] in the US? Many resources are free for employers to use. Look out, too, for hidden barriers to employment in your process (such as requiring a certain number of years of employment history for refugees or addresses for homeless people). How can these be addressed?
  • Social enterprises. Can you identify social enterprises that can deliver all or part of your specific services or goods provision?
  • Service delivery location. Do you operate in locations considered deprived? Can you offer employment or training? What about working from home or flexible working roles in those areas? Homeworking could reduce the travel footprint of workers and therefore reduce the environmental impact of your service.
  • Apprenticeships. Could your supplier incorporate apprenticeships in your service delivery as an avenue to growing talent? In the UK, this may offer an opportunity to utilize apprenticeship levy funds and help fill skills gaps.
  • Volunteering. Could your organization and your supplier jointly work on work-related volunteering opportunities? Not only would you deliver benefits to the community, but you’d enhance teamworking between both organizations, and use your volunteering days!

The success of these types of initiatives is often easier to tie back to your specific engagement with the supplier than other also-important social value areas, such as supplier-wide environmental initiatives. And be realistic in scale and achievability in what you’re trying to do.

  • Update your operational plans. Famed actor (and clearly a social value early adopter!) Robin Williams put it in his contracts that a certain number of homeless people had to be put to work in the creation of his films [7]. What could you include operationally or, indeed, contractually?
  • Measure success. Include measurement of your social value efforts in operational reporting and governance on your contracts to gauge impact.
  • Consider external promotion of your successes. You and your supplier may be keen to highlight your partnership and enhance your reputation – whether that’s in annual reports or advertisements. Everyone loves a good news story (just don’t ‘greenwash’)! And you may even find that candidates see your organization and your suppliers as an employer-of-choice as a result of your initiatives, aiding in recruitment and retention.

Remember, social value is more than just good public relations. A modern proverb, attributed to many [8], is to “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Incorporate social value into your extended workforce contracts and you can do just that. And if you need help making it happen, contact the team at Proxima.



[3] Those in the UK public sector should follow the Social Value Model guidance here:

[4] NEET = those not in employment, education or training





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