SEWF Verification: Two key supply stakeholders

by Maeve Curtin / March 2022

This blog is the second blog in a new series on SEWF Verification. New blogs are featuring throughout our pilot.

In response to demand within the social enterprise sector for a global social enterprise verification system that was accessible, affordable and culturally responsive, SEWF launched the SEWF Verification Pilot Programme. Officially announced at our annual flagship event last year, SEWF 2021, the Pilot Programme started running in early 2022 and the pilot will continue until September 2022.

The first blog in this 4-part series detailed why SEWF developed and launched SEWF Verification. It also transparently explained the collaborative process of consultation with the sector, involving both intermediaries and social enterprises, that occurred over 2 years to develop SEWF’s standards for verification. During this pilot phase of SEWF Verification, we look forward to working with our partners to ensure that like the standards, SEWF Verification more broadly is understood and has relevance in various geographic, political and cultural contexts.

There are two main groups of stakeholders who will help us throughout the pilot. These are individual social enterprises in countries and regions where social enterprise verification or certification does not already exist and intermediary organisations who are already providing social enterprise specific verification or certification in their local contexts.

Intermediaries who verify or certify social enterprises

As mentioned last week, these intermediary organisations were critical partners in developing SEWF’s standards because they had the previous experience and expertise of doing it within their own contexts. While there is different emphasis regionally, intermediaries and social enterprises alike are united around core tenets of social enterprise. As such, SEWF was able to use these values to develop our features and characteristics of social enterprise that then became the SEWF standards. Since launching SEWF Verification, SEWF has been working closely with these leading social enterprise certification and verification intermediaries to ensure that beyond broad consensus around core principles, there is clear alignment around their specific certification or verification criteria and ours, as well as a transparent understanding of how those criteria are assessed.

In most cases there is strong alignment, and because of this, SEWF is working with these partners to develop a system that supports their work. Most often this will be an opportunity for social enterprises that are first verified or certified by their local intermediary body to become SEWF Verified as well. We want to create this opportunity for dual verification for 2 reasons.

First, it profiles the existing intermediaries who have been leading the way on certification and verification and advocating for advantageous social procurement policy in their contexts on the international stage. Due to their local knowledge, they are the ones best positioned to review documents and broker local relationships for social enterprises once they have been verified. SEWF supports that work and knows their expertise and networks can add significant value to social enterprises aiming to break into new national or regional markets.

Second, SEWF can add an additional dimension in terms of access to global market opportunities. We hope this prospect will encourage social enterprises to first engage with their local intermediary as a step along the way to achieving any expanded market or international ambitions they may have.

In other cases, a certifying or verifying body may have aims and criteria broader than those of solely recognising social enterprises. In these situations, SEWF is working with our partners to develop a system where some, but not all, of those who are verified under local criteria can still gain international recognition as an SEWF Verified Social Enterprise.

We are working with partners in contexts where there is both complete and partial alignment because SEWF’s verification is not designed to be a competitor to any of the locally relevant verification systems. Rather, we exist to support the work they have already been doing, often for many years, and provide opportunities for greater market access to the entire social enterprise community regardless of what structural and ecosystem support they have available to them on a local level.

Social enterprises operating where certification or certification is not available 

The other key group of stakeholders behind SEWF Verification are the frontline social enterprises who want greater market access, but do not yet have the ecosystem support in their countries available to facilitate this at scale. Individual social enterprises are at the core of all SEWF’s work and this initiative is no different.

We want to help as many social enterprises as possible become verified to give them opportunities to be part of a wider network and community, especially where they do not have a strong social enterprise network or ecosystem locally, and to help facilitate more B2B and B2C opportunities where social enterprises may be interested in accessing those markets both locally and internationally.

We have streamlined the SEWF Verification process as much as possible while still ensuring it is designed to uphold and verify our international standards. Despite this, we recognise that since social enterprises are often so focused on service delivery and their mission, that the process of verification may be daunting, and they may have limited capacity to engage with the process. Social enterprises can still be verified by SEWF independently, but to help facilitate this as part of our commitment to accessibility, SEWF is working with regional partners and social enterprise leaders who can help champion this process with their members and among their networks. If you do not verify or certify social enterprises locally, but still support the social enterprise ecosystem as an intermediary or similar organisation, get in touch with us so we can partner to make SEWF Verification more accessible for those within your network.

Ultimately, SEWF would be supportive of more national and regional verification and certification systems if they were developed at the grassroots level based on demand from local social enterprises on the ground. If these do arise, we will work with the frontline leaders of these efforts to ensure that SEWF Verification continues to support and help advance their ambitions so we can grow the social enterprise movement together.

The next blog in this series will delve into the details of the process of SEWF Verification. Next, we’ll explain what happens once a social enterprise makes it through the verification process and what opportunities we hope this will open. Check back later to learn more.

Maeve is SEWF's Policy & Research Manager