BCSPI Purchasing Power Recap: How can social procurement support diversity and inclusion?

Feb 1st, 2022

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, Presentations Plus and Vancouver Island Construction Association.

British Columbia Social Procurement Initiative (BCSPI) hosted the fourth event in the “Purchasing Power” series, titled “How can social procurement support diversity and inclusion?”

We shared learnings with Nerissa Allen, President and CEO of Black Business Association of BC (BBABC), and Dugan Selkirk, Business Advisor with the Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Program at Community Futures BC.

Here are the key lessons and best practice tips from our discussion with them about using social procurement to increase supply chain diversity and equitable access to opportunities.

1 This gap in purchasing needs to be addressed

As moderator Kristi Fairholm-Mader from Scale Collaborative shared, “public sector acquisition of goods and services is 13% of Canada’s GDP. That’s a significant amount of spend that governments across all levels are making in our supply chains. It makes this a fundamental lever in order to achieve social and environmental objectives.”

The gap in purchasing from many groups in society – including the Black community and the disability community – is being spotlighted at this time, and we have an opportunity to use procurement to create long-term shifts for the better.

2 Take advantage of existing diverse business networks, build relationships

Nerissa Allen shared that for their members at BBABC, one of the main challenges business owners face is that purchasers don’t know where to find them. While BBABC is taking it upon themselves to support this search with the launch of their new Online Directory and Marketplace, Nerissa and Dugan also emphasized the importance of building your network with organizations like BBABC and Community Futures BC who can support you to make connections into targeted vendor communities.

Dugan quoted the adage, “What you seek is seeking you.” For any of the social value objectives you’re trying to meet in your social procurement policy and implementation, there are also suppliers who are contributing to those goals. Sometimes you just need to expand your network and get to know the intermediaries who can facilitate the connections.

3 Diverse-owned businesses can bring many kinds of impact to the table

Beyond meeting or fulfilling your organization’s goals to support equity-deserving communities and business owners, diverse-owned businesses can create many positive social impacts at once. Many businesses and business owners have intersectional identities, and possess a wide range of social purpose missions.

As an example, Nerissa shares that BBABC is working to become carbon neutral, and that they support their members with workshops and training to achieve a wide range of environmental and social targets in their business practices.

“When we’re creating business strategies for our members and their business plans we’re always looking to have them align their business strategies in support of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. That’s an important part of being a global citizen.” – Nerissa

4 Leverage small spends for big impact

Both Nerissa and Dugan emphasize that capacity for larger-scale contracts is one of the largest barriers to take advantage of procurement opportunities for the entrepreneurs they work with.

While supporting your social value suppliers to build their capacity is important, there are also ways to use your smaller, discretionary purchases to support diverse businesses immediately.

“Focus on your small spends. What are the direct awards that can take place? How can you carve smaller sub-contracts out of a larger project?” – Kristi

These sub-contracts are one great opportunity to provide an accessible opportunity that can also build capacity and trust for future work.

“All it takes is one big contract that will change your life.” – Dugan

5 Reflect on your current vendor list

Take stock of what your current supply network looks like. Once you know what you purchase and from whom, now you can research options to help you diversify, and begin to explore additional vendor options.

This doesn’t mean you need to cut ties with current vendors, but Nerissa urges purchasers to “look at ways you can spread your purchasing power across a more diversified pool of vendors.”

6 Consider the economic multiplier effect

“Impact has ripples” – Dugan

Purchasing from businesses owned or controlled by members of equity-seeking groups has many positive returns within a community.

Nerissa sees these purchases making a difference by “empowering change in communities that have been impacted by systemic barriers. As these communities grow, they increase their economic impact on their local community, on their local economy, and on the Canadian economy as a whole.”

Two concrete actions you can take now:

  1. For business owners: reach out for help, and look online for supports for the type of businesses that you’re trying to do or for the community you belong to. – Dugan
  2. Build relationships. If you don’t know where to start or you need help in that journey we can support networking amongst our business community and facilitate conversations between yourself and vendors. – Nerissa

Watch the recording to learn more:

Please contact Rob Fisher at rfisher@scalecollaborative to find out more about becoming a BCSPI member.

We hope we’ll see you at future BCSPI events.

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

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