BCSPI Webinar Recap: Lessons Learned Supporting Local Governments to Adopt Social Procurement

Apr 15th, 2024

British Columbia Social Procurement Initiative (BCSPI) brings together local governments and institutions to develop and grow social procurement policies and practices. Buy Social Canada manages BCSPI.

British Columbia Social Procurement Initiative (BCSPI) recently hosted a webinar titled “Lessons Learned in Supporting Local Governments to Adopt Social Procurement.”

The speakers were key champions and leaders from the initiative: BSCPI Co-Chairs Mayor Vickey Brown (Village of Cumberland) and Councillor Jenna Stoner (District of Squamish); and project delivery partners Tori Williamson (Buy Social Canada), Kristi Fairholm Mader (Scale Collaborative), Rob Fisher (Scale Collaborative), Rory Kulmala (VICA), and Anthony Jeffery (formerly District of Squamish).

The conversation outlined how BCSPI started, the culture change we’ve seen over the past five years, and what we can learn from local governments who have been implementing social procurement.

Here are the key takeaways:

Social procurement is a “no brainer” for local governments

Local governments have exceptional purchasing power to leverage, and social procurement allows us to bring our spend and economic power into our local economies, and integrate social and environmental outcomes.

For Mayor Vickey Brown (Village of Cumberland), “the benefits are obvious! You’re already spending the money, you just get more.”

In Squamish, Councillor Jenna Stoner shares that the District first became interested in social procurement when they were looking at the possible levers they could use to achieve their goals.

Like many communities, Stoner explains, Squamish is rapidly growing while also facing other intersecting climate crises plus rapidly aging architecture and a fast growing population.

In that context, social procurement “became a huge value to us to achieve multiple goals by putting our money to work,” says Stoner.

Consider staff capacity

All the speakers emphasized the importance of staff to champion and implement social procurement programs.  

Councillor Stoner expanded on this, saying that they’ve learned the importance of hiring staff to support on social procurement implementation. For example, in their upcoming infrastructure and development projects, they’ve built (social) procurement staff time into the budget for the project, to ensure they have adequate capacity.

Anthony Jeffery adds that in addition to staff capacity, political level support for social procurement makes it easier for staff to adopt and implement social procurement.

Mayor Brown reminds us that cross-organization training should be a goal whenever possible, as staff turnover can cause gaps in knowledge and commitment. In Cumberland, as in many other communities, they’ve lost their staff champions as people move jobs, which can slow down the implementation process.

Be part of the culture change which is already having an impact

It’s an exciting time to adopt or deepen social procurement practices. All the speakers highlighted that we are already seeing the culture of purchasers and sellers changing as communities set social procurement targets and criteria.

Rory Kulmala explains that at the beginning of BCSPI, communities set criteria that were achievable for suppliers at that time so that they didn’t alienate suppliers or make the process less appealing.

“We brought them closer to the solution rather than avoiding it,” he explains. As the years have passed, these criteria have been ramped up as suppliers and local governments have increased their capacity.

Mayor Brown has also seen the effects of their social procurement practice in their suppliers. She shares that many of their vendors love working with them because of the additional benefit they can contribute to the community, and they “come back over and over to do it again.”

In Squamish, “this has become the way we do business,” says Councillor Stoner. Social procurement is included on most if not all RFPs issued by the District, and they have ongoing conversations with supply chain partners to share their goals and requirements while working collaboratively to create best value.

Anthony Jeffery shared one example that proved the culture was changing in Squamish. On a construction project, they saw a new contractor bid who had never worked with the District before. When asked why they were bidding for the first time, the contractor explained that it was because of the District’s social procurement program.

“This showed me that we’ve made a difference and changed the culture,” says Jeffery.

Social procurement requires continued iteration

Another theme that came up several times is that a social procurement program should never stop learning and improving.

As Tori Williamson shares, “social procurement is a process. It’s a means, not an end.”

Councillor Stoner echoed this statement, saying that in Squamish the attitude is: “We’ve gone somewhere, where do we go next?”

For successful learning and implementation, it is crucial that organizations measure and report on their outcomes and impacts, and gather information from their suppliers.

BCSPI is an accessible solution for support and capacity building

BCSPI is possibly the only initiative of its kind, dedicated to advancing social procurement for local governments in a specific region, while building a community of collaboration, inclusion and support.

As an initiative that was created by and for local governments and institutions, BCSPI is focused on providing training, tools, and a community of practice so staff across organizations know who to turn to and where find resources.

As Tori Williamson emphasizes, the initiative was designed to be easy and affordable for small communities to access without stretching already thin budgets.

For BCSPI members, there are several ways to stay engaged and continue learning:

  • Join the Community of Practice.
    • Next meeting on Thursday, May 23 from 2-3pm.
    • Please email em@buysocialcanada.com to join.
  • Attend a CLASP event.
    • CLASP stands for Community Learning to Advance Social Procurement, and is available exclusively for Buy Social Canada Social Purchasing Partners and BCSPI Members.
    • The next CLASP event takes place on Tuesday, June 25, and will explore the complexities of diverse supplier self-attestation, verification, and certification.
    • The meeting invite will be sent to all BCSPI members.
  • Attend core social procurement training sessions.
    • SP101: Introduction to Social Procurement on September 12, 2024SP201: Social Procurement Implementation on October 17, 2024
    • SP301: Social Procurement in Construction Projects on November 27, 2024
  • Join the Executive Committee.
    • BCSPI is transitioning in governance from co-chairs and a Steering Committee to an advisory Executive Committee. We are looking for nominations of representatives from municipal governments, regional districts, institutional purchasers, and Crown Corporations to sit on this Executive Committee. The representative must be willing to meet four times per year to provide advice and recommendations for BCSPI. 
    • Please send nominations to em@buysocialcanada.com.

Watch the full recording to learn more:

Please contact Em Chapman at em@buysocialcanada.com to find out more about becoming a BCSPI member, joining the Community of Practice, or joining the BCSPI Executive Committee.

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