BCSPI Purchasing Power Recap: How can social procurement engage Indigenous businesses?

Nov 8th, 2021

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) recently hosted the first event in the “Purchasing Power” series, titled “How can social procurement engage Indigenous businesses?”

We got to connect with, and learn from, two industry leaders, Judy Kitts, Indigenous Engagement Manager for the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority (GVHA), and Ron Arcos, Business Development Officer for the Nuu-chah-nulth Economic Development Corporation (NEDC). 

Here are their key lessons and best practice tips:

1. It’s all about building relationships

As Judy Kitts explained, it’s not enough to send an email or make a social media post. You need to get out and meet in person. The success of Indigenous procurement at the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority (GVHA) has come from being focused on relationships.

She also added that Victoria is a small place, which has been an advantage since the relationships have snowballed as more businesses reach out to connect with the GVHA once they hear about their procurement policy within their community or Nation.

2. Access existing directories and networks

Knowing who is available to buy from in your community will increase your success in sharing contracting chances with Indigenous businesses. Circling back to the first learning from this session, Judy recommended networking as there are a number of Indigenous business directories as well as Aboriginal economic development corporations across Canada that actively work with and support Indigenous businesses.

Both Ron and Judy had a note of caution around the challenge of keeping directories updated, and that they can miss the smaller local businesses. Directories and networks are a place to start but direct engagement is also part of the strategy.

3. Give advance notice

Ron from NEDC shared that a common barrier for businesses to work with local governments is a lack of time or warning to prepare a proposal or build capacity.

“RFPs should be posted within a reasonable time period. The worst thing is for us to be approached on a Thursday and everything has to be in by Monday. That timeframe doesn’t make sense.” — Ron

If you share a list of your upcoming projects or the things you routinely buy, many more businesses will have a chance to take advantage of the opportunities you provide. 

4. Be flexible

The process of social procurement takes time, and you have to be realistic with your objectives. Start small and make it grow.

“I am a fan of baby steps. It takes time and you have to be realistic about what the objective is. Start small and make it grow. First make the connection.” — Ron

You can also unbundle projects to create more opportunity for engagement or ask your large project contractors about their hiring and contracting to incorporate Indigenous businesses in the project supply chain even if they don’t take on the direct contract.

5. What gets measured gets done

At the GVHA, they realized that without measuring or tracking, they could not know what new goals to aim for, nor accurately represent what they were already doing.

“I believe what the CCAB says, what gets measured gets done. So we started with 2% operational goal, 3% capital goal, raised now to 3% operational and 5% capital. Having these targets and meeting quarterly to see where you are at is helpful. It can be discouraging if you are not there, but it can also be encouraging to say ‘hey we need to reach out to these businesses to find opportunities.” — Judy

6. Harness purchasing power for reconciliation and community wealth building

Judy stated that their Indigenous procurement policy has helped internally with employee morale and the GVHA’s commitment to first nation relationships and partnerships. Our employees want to see this in practice.

“It is not enough to be just a principle anymore. People want to see what action the organization is taking … I am reminded of Carol-Ann Hilton, and the $100B Indigenous economy. If everyone does their little bit, it is cumulative and you will see the effects of that wealth in the community.” — Judy

Two concrete actions you can take now:

  1. Try and meet with a local Indigenous business. Make a goal to meet one or two a month and connect. – Judy
  1. Reach out to your local aboriginal capital corporation. They are right across Canada. From there referrals can be made. – Ron

Watch the full 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 the next Purchasing Power event.

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

1.       British Columbia Social Procurement Initiative (BCSPI)

2.       Nuu-chah-nulth Economic Development Corporation (NEDC) 

3.       Greater Victoria Harbour Authority (GVHA)

4.       BC Government report: What We Heard

5.       GVHA Indigenous procurement

6.       Aboriginal Financial Institutions

7.       GVHA Indigenous relations report

8.       GVHA Indigenous Business Directory

9.       CCAB Directory (nation-wide)

10.   New Relationship Trust

11.   Indigenous Procurement Best Practices from Indigenous Corporate Training Inc

12.   BC Hydro Indigenous Procurement policy

13.   Book recommendation: Indigenomics by Carol Anne Hilton

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