BCSPI Purchasing Power: How can procurement help address poverty?

Feb 13th, 2023

British Columbia Social Procurement Initiative (BCSPI) brings together local governments and institutions to develop and grow social procurement policies and practices. BCSPI is supported by Buy Social Canada, Scale Collaborative, and Vancouver Island Construction Association.

British Columbia Social Procurement Initiative (BCSPI) recently hosted an event in the second annual “Purchasing Power” series titled “How can procurement help address poverty?”

We spoke with community leaders, Jill Zacharias, of Tamarack Institute, and Susannah Cameron and Karen Bruno of EndPovertyEdmonton. Our conversation focused on how local governments and institutions need to collaborate and find partners, allow for things to take time, and be both intentional and creative to “move the needle” on poverty in their communities.

Here are the key takeaways and best practice tips:

1. Poverty is being taken more seriously by governments across Canada

“Until recent history, Canada had no single definition of poverty… there were only numbers, a low income cut off that didn’t quite equate with the cost of living.” – Jill Zacharias

In 2017, the Federal Government launched a poverty reduction strategy, Opportunity for All. For the first time, there was a clear, unified definition of poverty in Canada that went beyond just a low-income number.

Two years later, the Government of BC launched Together BC, the province’s first poverty reduction strategy. Together BC outlines six priority areas:

  • More affordable housing for more people
  • Supporting families, children and youth
  • Expanding access to education and training
  • More opportunities, more jobs
  • Improving income supports
  • Investing in social inclusion

In BC, local governments have access to funding to achieve outcomes through the UBCM Poverty Reduction Planning & Action Program.

“We’re seeing a plethora of planning and action on poverty reduction at a broader, more in-depth scale than ever before.” – Jill Zacharias

2. Social procurement can deliver outcomes for poverty reduction

“Poverty is complex, systemic, and deeply rooted so finding a solution requires the whole community.” – Susannah Cameron

Social procurement encourages organizations to break out of silos and think across sectors to add social and environmental outcomes into existing purchasing.

Susannah highlighted some of the key opportunity areas where procurement can help address poverty:

  • Inclusive employment and training for target populations with higher rates of poverty
  • Purchasing from social enterprises, local businesses, diverse-owned businesses and small and medium businesses that hire locally and pay a living wage
  • Leverage community benefit agreements on construction and infrastructure projects to target employment, training and purchasing outcomes that can support people facing poverty

The goal is to “create an economy that works for everyone, create ways for people to access business opportunities,” and social procurement can help, said Susannah Cameron.

Jill adds that since local governments have a “whole community mandate” it’s vital they are at the table to tackle poverty. Governments and public institutions need to look at all tools in their toolbox and what their contribution can be, and social procurement shows what is possible when local governments get involved and demonstrate leadership.

3. Allow the time needed

Karen Bruno and Susannah Cameron both highlighted that time and lack of community involvement in design stages are two barriers to taking advantage of social procurement initiatives. They’ve heard this time and again when working with Indigenous businesses and other social value suppliers.

Susannah urges city staff to think about how to facilitate early community involvement when planning and designing their social procurement policy. To think strategically from the beginning about how to get broad engagement from the communities and businesses they’re trying to reach – for example connecting with local associations and networks.

In addition to time, organizations need staff who are empowered to act, and dedicated to their social procurement work. It may be helpful for suppliers to have a key contact in the purchasing organization to ask questions and build relationships.

4. Get creative in your process

Karen urged that organizations design processes based on success rather than deficit and work to support peoples’ talents. She said it’s important to co-create and interrogate “how we govern ourselves,” especially as an organization is trying to become more inclusive and work to reduce poverty in their community.

Karen shared an example of shifting process and working more creatively in Edmonton. One of the actions in EndPovertyEdmonton’s road map for the City was to build an Indigenous Culture and Wellness Centre. As co-chair of EndPovertyEdmonton’s Indigenous Circle, Karen was part of the steering committee leading this project. Before building, they needed to hire a consultant to do an environmental scan and community engagement. Indigenous committee members, including Karen, redesigned the RFP process to be more relational, and ranked the interview higher in the evaluation than the written response. With the focus on talking to each other, learning about each of the proponents and building relationships, they were able to learn that the company that had been their first choice on paper wasn’t necessarily the right choice.

Another proponent they wouldn’t have otherwise considered based on their written response ended up winning the bid because in the interview their commitment and experience working with Indigenous communities stood out. The environmental scan they received from this successful bidder was rich in Indigenous consultation. This result was only achieved because they focused more on relationship-building, and the interview, in an atypical bid process.

5. Keep learning and iterating

Jill highlighted that when trying something new, it’s key to plan for an iterative process.

“Ongoing learning and evaluation is critical to be able to understand if you’re being effective. Are you actually moving the needle in your community?” – Jill Zacharias

Measurement is also important because it allows organizations to be strategic in how they move forward, and work on what may need to change to create the outcomes they hope for. BCSPI supports members to do this with an impact measurement framework, templates, and tools. 

Karen added that as with the whole endeavour, it’s important to be creative and rethink how we do measurement, and what we measure. Historically, she said, research and measurement were used to find the deficits of Indigenous people. Instead, organizations should strive to find ways to track the successes and progress made together as Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. 

Measurement is also an important part of building and maintaining relationships and accountability, Karen said.

Three concreate actions you can take now:

  1. Karen: Reach out to the Indigenous community and build those relationships, as well as the different business associations.
  2. Jill: “Learn from what’s working on the ground” and have someone dedicated to undertaking the work, with permission to take the time to do the work needed – buy in and support needs to come from admin, leaders and managers.
  3. Susannah: “Go to where people are.” Look at the resources and professional associations in your community that may already be out there that will help you connect with social enterprises, co-ops, and small businesses. 

Watch the full recording to learn more:

Please contact Rob Fisher at rfisher@scalecollaborative.ca to find out more about becoming a BCSPI member, and sign up for the BCSPI newsletter to stay up to date on procurement news, events and offerings.

We hope we’ll see you at the next Purchasing Power event on March 2, 2023: How can procurement support housing affordability?

For your reference and continued learning, here are the resources and links shared during the event:

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