Puzzles and Partnerships

Puzzles and Partnerships

Posted by: Jo Seagrave / 26 June 2018

By Alexandra van der Ploeg

Head of Corporate Social Responsibility, SAP

What if all 7.6 billion people in the world tried to put together a jigsaw puzzle? Each person with a piece of the puzzle. The private sector; public sector; social entrepreneurs; policy makers—the list goes on. Could we do it? Would we agree on why we should do it? Where would we start? With friends and family or with employers and countries? Could we “create an app for that”? Chances are, we’d never finish the puzzle and most likely would feel too daunted by the task to even start.

Does that mean it can’t be done?

Like the world trying to complete a jigsaw puzzle, our work is connected, but our efforts may not always be. Three years into Agenda 2030 we see more corporations developing strategies to contribute to the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). With that comes increased awareness of a whole sector that has been working for years on systemic change – social enterprises.

With principles such as innovation, transformation and purpose embedded into the DNA of a social enterprise, it is only logical that we should see increased partnerships between corporations and social enterprises in the pursuit of collective impact. It’s why SAP is honored to partner with the Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) for the second year in a row, as we understand and believe in the power of an open platform like SEWF to unite different stakeholders and enable collaboration and knowledge sharing to effect sustainable social change.

The social enterprise movement is of course not new. In the last 20 years we have seen the emergence of organizations crucial in developing the sector, such as Ashoka, the Skoll Foundation, the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, Social Enterprise UK and 10 years ago the Social Enterprise World Forum, leading to a staggering number of social enterprises that are founded across the globe every day. Just recently I learned that in the UK alone there is a vibrant social enterprise community with around 70,000 social enterprises, employing almost 1M people – numbers that demonstrate how powerful this sector has become in such a short period of time!

Yet I would argue that we are seeing two trends with the potential to increase the relevance of social enterprises even further. One is of course Agenda 2030 and the other being the growing demand by society that companies serve a social purpose. Let me elaborate a little.

In September 2015, the world was witness to a historic moment – the adoption of Agenda 2030 and its Sustainable Development Goals by all 193 UN member states. Historic 1) as for the first time ever there was a clearly outlined and unified plan of action to create a world without poverty, a healthy planet, and a just, peaceful society for everyone 2) the adoption of the SDGs resulted from an unprecedented inclusive process, with governments, business, civil society and citizens.

Over the last two and a half years, the world has taken crucial steps together, but it is also clear that multi-stakeholder partnerships and true collaboration are required to achieve the SDGs. With their core competence in social innovation and transformation, social enterprises bring a level of expertise to the table second to none, making them an invaluable partner in achieving collective impact for the SDGs.

So what about purpose?

Purpose matters to just about everything. Social enterprise or not, people want to support companies dedicated not only to solving business problems, but that have a social conscience, as well.

In January 2018, Larry Fink, Chairman and CEO of BlackRock Inc., issued a letter to CEOs with a very clear message. When the owner of an investment fund that manages 1.7 trillion USD in active funds, calls for companies to make a positive contribution to society beyond their financial performance, it sends a ripple effect through the business community. In other words, to stay relevant and secure future success, companies are learning to make decisions that create collective economic, social, and environmental impact. Who better to look to than social enterprises that have made systemic social change their reason to exist?

As I shared in my puzzle metaphor, we are all working on different pieces of the same problem, we just might not always be working together (yet!). Partnerships built through ecosystems like Social Enterprise World Forum help all of us to forge uncommon collaboration to deliver on our shared purpose.

What’s next?

I look forward to continuing the dialogue on how the pursuit of partnership, a shared purpose and innovation lead to greater impact for all. No organization can go it alone, but together, we can transform industries, grow economies, lift-up societies, and sustain the environment.


SAP is a Platinum Sponsor of SEWF 2018

As market leader in enterprise application software, SAP is committed to helping companies of all sizes and industries become best run businesses. Now more than ever, being the best means making a difference. It means connecting people and information to address the world’s biggest challenges. SAP is thrilled to sponsor SEWF again.