Changing Lives, One Purchase at a Time: The Power of Procurement for Social Impact
Many procurement and finance leaders want to make a difference in the world, but they feel torn between the pressures of numerous business priorities. As we mark Global Impact Week across the Coupa community, we want to share the difference that one of our customers — Zurich Insurance — is making with what is known as “social procurement.”
Social procurement is about using your purchasing and procurement powers to make socially- and/or environmentally-responsible purchases. It’s about integrating social impact practices into core business operations.
Zurich Chief Procurement Officer Phil Soderberg and Change Please founder Cemal Ezel sat down with Coupa’s Michael Schanker to talk about the power of business spend to not only accelerate a company’s performance, but also to help make a positive difference in the communities they call home.
Watch and read below for highlights or click here for the full-length interview.
How and why Zurich Insurance embraces social procurement
MICHAEL SCHANKER: Zurich and Coupa have been partners since 2017. How has social procurement at Zurich had a positive impact on the communities that you live and work in?
PHIL SODERBERG: Community is the most important thing to talk about. The work we do with Change Please, it’s about tackling homelessness. And we work with other groups who are focused on other areas of social change. What binds them all together for us is they have a real positive impact on the communities where we work and operate.
MICHAEL: So what was it that led you to work with Cemal and Change Please?
PHIL: When you talk to social entrepreneurs about why they do what they do, it’s infectious. So when I met Cemal, we had a global webinar for our whole procurement community and he told his story about why he set up the organization. And if you spend time talking to social entrepreneurs, if that doesn’t motivate you and move you to action, then I don’t know what will.
How coffee can help end homelessness
MICHAEL: Cemal, tell everyone a little bit about that story. Why did you start Change Please? What does it all mean to you?
CEMAL EZEL: I used to work in the city of London as a commodity broker. I had a bit of a midlife crisis at the age of 29. I started to imagine sitting in a rocking chair at the age of 90, looking back on life thinking, “What have you achieved? What’s your legacy on the world? How are your children going to speak about you when you’re not here?” It took me down this rabbit hole of thinking, and leaving the world in a better place and helping people around us is the common denominator of what I came up with.
You walk past people in the streets who are homeless all over the world and that kind of inability to know what to do just felt completely inhuman to me. And then you start speaking to people and understanding their backgrounds and also the untapped potential they have to contribute back to society.
It’s very easy to put those labels onto people who are homeless — that they’re lazy, they’re drug addicts, they’ve got mental health issues. But that’s a very small proportion of people — about 11%. Yet, 44% of them want to work and can work, and they’re labeled in that same group as that 11%. So if 44% of people want to work and can work, let’s give them jobs. Let’s give them an opportunity to do that.
For us to do that, it’s really simple. We need to generate income, and the way we do that is selling coffee. We see changing very small products in supply chains can just make a huge difference to the world that we live in. Organizations can just look at a very small percentage of their spend and see what a huge difference that can make to the world that we live in.
Profits and purpose: You can have both
MICHAEL: Clearly, partnerships and collaborations with other organizations is the way that you have to go to make it successful. On the other side, Phil — talk about that at Zurich. Everyone’s thinking, okay, maybe this is a good idea, but how would we do this? How do you think about measuring the performance of the partnership with a supplier like Change Please?
PHIL: There’s a myth that we have to bust. When you start something like this, you may come up against a bit of apathy internally because people think social procurement is about charity. It’s not about charity. They’re pretty sophisticated. They’ve got good quality products. They can compete on price. So actually you’re not sacrificing anything. You’ve just got to break through that perception that people have about it.
MICHAEL: Cemal, you’re trying to balance profits and purpose. How do you think about balancing those two and measuring what success looks like for Change Please?
CEMAL: It’s difficult. If you think of our competitors in the coffee industry, they are purely focused on the commercial outcomes — and we have to do both. We have to look at generating a bigger business and supporting more people and developing more budget surplus. But then when we are generating that surplus, we are then turning it around and reinvesting those profits. We’ve had so much support from our corporate partners to help us from everything from finance to marketing to being a better run organization, especially as we’re growing internationally as well. So that balance is super difficult, but we are learning quickly.
MICHAEL: What’s next for Change Please? Where are you going from here?
CEMAL: Yeah, so international expansion I think is really important. As you might have guessed, a lot of people drink coffee and also there’s homelessness in most major cities around the world. So for us, it’s that international growth. But we don’t see ourselves as a coffee company that’s trying to do good. We are a company that’s trying to reduce homelessness through coffee.
We can only do that through organizations looking at their procurement spend and changing what products they purchase. So for us, it really is around being advocates, not just of what we do, but the social enterprise space and ESG agenda, but then also trying to promote and grow other social enterprises to do good as well.
Nobody’s going to fire you for doing the right thing
MICHAEL: Phil, there might be some people saying, “I would like to do this, but I just don’t know where to start.” What practical advice do you about whether companies should consider this?
PHIL: Just start. I don’t think it matters where you start. Think about that — just buying a coffee and the change you can make. So just start somewhere. I really don’t think it matters where you start. Nobody’s going to fire you for doing the right thing, and that’s doing the right thing.
About the organizations:
- Zurich Insurance is a Fortune 200 company serving people and businesses in more than 200 countries and territories. Founded 150 years ago, in addition to providing insurance protection, Zurich is increasingly offering prevention services such as those that promote wellbeing and enhance climate resilience. The procurement team at Zurich manages about $2.5 billion in company spend. You can learn more about the company’s purpose and strategy.
- Change Please is a not-for-profit social enterprise that tackles homelessness just through organizations changing one product in their supply chain — coffee! 100% of Change Please profits helps people experiencing homelessness by training them to become baristas, supporting them with everything they need to turn their lives around — a living wage job, housing, therapy, bank account and onward employment opportunities. Connect with them at changeplease.org.
Editor’s note: Phil, Cemal, and Michael originally shared this conversation at Inspire 2023 in London.