Johnson & Johnson encourage peers to use social enterprises

In what will hopefully be the first in a series of such evenings, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) hosted a dinner at Brigade last week to encourage other companies in the pharmaceutical industry to contract social enterprises into their supply chain.

Ten representatives from social enterprises were present at the dinner, alongside an equal number of representatives from the pharmaceutical industry. A succession of two minute pitches from the social entrepreneurs took place between courses.

Mark Hicken, managing director of Janssen, the pharmaceutical arm of Johnson & Johnson, explained the reason for the gathering: “The thing that gets us out of bed in the morning and really gets us engaged is what difference we can make to individuals.”

He said that J&J was aiming to put 3% of essential business spend with social enterprises by 2020, supporting 150 jobs for people that are furthest from the job market.

Hicken further explained that when he had asked the social enterprises that J&J partners with what he could do to help them scale, they had “perhaps shamelessly said ‘help us grow the business, make some introductions, help us meet some other people.’”

When asked why J&J had introduced social enterprises into their supply chain, Hicken explained that, as well as the desire ‘to give back’, “there was an adjacency to our business, people that are active in the mental health space, for example.”

One of the ten social enterprises present was Autism Works (trading as see:detail) who have provided software testing services for J&J. see:detail provides sustainable employment to people with an Autism Spectrum Condition or Asperger’s Syndrome in the role of software testers.  This often means that the prostive traits of the condition provides an aptitude for attention to detail and a love of repetitive tasks to very exacting standards.

During his presentation, founder of see:detail, Peter Macdonald related the stark fact that only 15% of people with an autism diagnosis are in employment.  There are thought to be some 700,000 people in the UK with the condition.

With each subsequent presentation, the pharmaceutical representatives appeared to become more enthused by the possibility of their budgets having some social impact.

During discussions that followed, this was tempered by the more pragmatic necessity of needing to know if the services showcased would offer competitive costs and how Hugh Chamberlain, head of corporate social responsibility of J&J had persuaded senior executives that contracting with social enterprises was a sound business decision.

Reactions from those present in the pharmaceutical industry were generally enthusiastic. Sarah Knight, head of procurement for Novartis in the UK, was one of those that was impressed. She commented: “The introduction to social enterprise companies last night was extremely informative and really resonated with me.

“Initially, we could explore pilot opportunities at a local level where we have more autonomy over the supplier selection process and we would be able to integrate social enterprise supply partners into our local supply chain.”

Photo credit: Rémi Walle Unsplash