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Vanessa Soames is the new Social Value Director for Cognizant Public Sector and Health in the UK. Here, she shares how we ensure our public sector work delivers measurable social impact. 

Social value has been an important dimension of UK public sector procurement since the Public Service (Social Value) Act came into force in 2013. In 2021 government went further, implementing a Social Value Model that requires every bidder to state what additional social, economic or environmental value they will deliver as part of the contract, and how they will deliver it. This information is then scored in bid evaluations and given a minimum weighting of 10%.  

As Cognizant’s UK Public Sector and Health business has grown, we wanted to formalise our approach to social value so we can maximise the value we can deliver. So, in September 2023, we took the important step of creating a dedicated role, and I was thrilled to be appointed as our first Social Value Director.

Three focus areas: support, initiatives and measurement

It’s a role that operates across three pillars to ensure we’re delivering on our social value commitments. Firstly, it involves supporting our public sector clients in terms of understanding their priorities as it relates to the value they’d like to generate; whether that’s economic regeneration in a deprived area, or a reduction in carbon emissions for a specific system or asset or wellbeing of the contract staff.

On that point, public sector buyers and suppliers often find it challenging to identify how a particular contract might deliver social value, sometimes resulting in missed opportunities to make a meaningful difference to a particular community. One of my key focuses is therefore to work with our clients to identify the most practical ways to achieve their desired outcomes under the terms of the contract.

Secondly, it’s about designing our initiatives to match those priorities, including finding the right partners to work with to ensure positive and measurable outcomes. And thirdly, it’s about measuring the outcomes in terms of their tangible economic, social or environmental benefit. 

Measurement is one of the most challenging aspects of social value delivery—both choosing what to measure, and demonstrating tangible impact from the initiatives undertaken. It’s another area where I can bring a lot of experience to bear in my new role: in my previous role with Police Now, for example, our Home Office funding was contingent on our ability to measure the impact on the community of the neighbourhood police officers we recruited, trained and developed.

A chance to make a positive difference in society

I’m excited to be in a role that’s literally all about making a positive difference in society, something that’s always been a huge motivator for me. 

It’s an opportunity to build on previous roles I’ve held, both in Cognizant and in the wider industry. At Cognizant I previously designed and led our Early Talent programme, focusing on ensuring equal representation and social mobility in our hiring practices—a commitment recognised by the Bridge Group, who named us the top Social Mobility Graduate Recruiter in the UK.

At KPMG I led the development of a school-leaver route into an accountancy career, helping to level the playing field for people unable to pursue a university degree. And as a Board Member of the Institute of Student Employers, I developed and ran a course on Early Careers Recruitment Strategy for Black Lives Matter, drawing on Diversity and Social Mobility experience I gained at Barclays and Police Now.

Social value is embedded deep in Cognizant’s DNA

It’s also a role where I feel I can build on the positive impact Cognizant already makes. Delivering social value is deep in our DNA: our ESG initiatives, for example, have seen us reduce emissions associated with our IT infrastructure by 66% since 2019; offer Net Zero training to our top 150 suppliers, and keep 62,000 computers out of landfill. 

On the digital inclusivity and social mobility side, in 2022 we invested over $23.5m globally in organisations advancing digital skills, and we continued our commitment to increasing associate diversity through inclusive hiring practices.

Furthermore, last year we partnered with QA Ltd and Northumbria University to develop the Women in Technology Masters Leadership Programme utilising our UK Apprenticeship Levy. This unique programme combines technical excellence with executive leadership capabilities to facilitate the growth and career progression of women in leadership roles. With tailored masterclasses by expert leaders from our partners - AWS, Salesforce, ServiceNow, Microsoft and Google Cloud - the curriculum is grounded to real-world relevance. Applications for this blended programme opened in October 2023 and I’m very pleased to launch the start of this 27-month programme in January 2024 with a small cohort of women. Watch this space for more.

Meanwhile, through our global Cognizant Outreach program, 47,000 of our employees collectively donate 150,000 volunteer hours per year to initiatives ranging from digital skills coaching for people from disadvantaged backgrounds, to helping military veterans transition into a digital career.

To give just a couple of examples from last year, our UK Outreach program worked with the Department for Education to foster a passion for STEM subjects among girls from minority ethnic backgrounds, and with Northumbrian Water to help people cope with the cost-of-living crisis, amongst other impactful initiatives.

Looking forward to taking social value even further in 2024

As a strategic technology partner to government departments across Central, Health and Defence, we very much welcome the focus on social value in public sector contracts. It’s a fantastic opportunity to bring positive economic and social change to some of the UK’s most disadvantaged people and communities, and we’re deeply committed to maximising the social impact of our contracts.

We do also recognise there’s work to be done to make social value as impactful as it can be. On that note, we welcome the work being done by techUK to help the public sector align its social value aspirations more closely with the value its technology partners are most capable of delivering. 

Moving into 2024, I look forward to having many positive conversations with our government customers, to ensure we design social value initiatives that deliver maximum benefit to our communities, our society and our planet. And I’m really looking forward to co-ordinating those initiatives across our UK Public Sector and Health practice, and to showing the tangible results we’ve been able to achieve, together.

If you’d like to talk about maximising the impact of the Social Value Model or generally about the topic of Social Value, please do get in touch.


Vanessa Soames

Social Value Director, Public Sector, UK&I, Cognizant

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