Every purchase decision we make, whether impulsively or routinely, can have a rippling effect. It can cause the decline or growth of employment, influence the health of local economies, and create or relieve stress on the environment. For this reason, buyers have more say in their purchases than they may imagine.
Social purchasing is about looking at the impact of our purchases and making a conscious decision to spend money, which would be spent anyway, on things that generate social benefit. For instance, we could buy bread from a bakery that employs at-risk individuals and at the same time, promote social inclusion.
Increasingly, there are a number of businesses that both make money and focus on the well-being of the environment and society. To help individual consumers find businesses like the bakery to purchase from, Rolfe Larson created an application called Social Impact, which uses GPS technology on devices to locate social enterprises locally on the map. Currently, over 600 businesses from North America, Europe, and Asia are listed on this app, including restaurants, coffee shops, and retail stores.
“There are an increasing number of local businesses that employ adults with disabilities or street involved youth. These are often bakeshops, printers, and second-hand clothing stores,” says Angela Draskovic, Founder of Zoë Alliance, a social enterprise based in Toronto, Canada that helps corporate buyers source their products from impoverished markets.
Draskovic has spent 16 years in the corporate world and over 6 years in non-profit. On the one hand, the corporate world spends billions of dollars each year on gifts, promotional items, and donations and on the other hand, impoverished villages are stuck in the cycle of poverty. So when she began learning about social enterprise, it struck her as the ideal structure to make a lasting difference by “harnessing the power of the routine spending of companies and organizations on promotional merchandise to help alleviate poverty”.
“’Social sourcing’ is the foundational idea,” says Draskovic. “It is the concept of giving organizations an option they don’t currently have, and that is to buy their conference bags, t-shirts, pens, or other merchandise items from business that employ people living in poverty, or persons with disabilities. The power of this idea is that it leverages an existing marketing budget to achieve a very tangible and lasting social outcome.”
She founded the company wanting to figure out a way to personally help the people who are living in poverty or powerless circumstances. In order to break the cycle of poverty, Draskovic believes that the most important thing to have is a “collective will”. She compares this task with the collective effort of recycling.
“Somehow in the last 10 to 15 years we managed to get everyone to sort his or her garbage three ways and take it to the curb.”
“We need to leverage our spending to help people in poverty build successful and sustainable businesses so that they won’t need a donation. Social sourcing is an essential part of a comprehensive strategy to sustainably alleviate poverty, it’s fun, and it connects to people in very meaningful ways. ”
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