Event Recap from Marketplace Impact: Social Procurement in Action

May 23rd, 2024

Marketplace Impact: Social Procurement in Action shared social procurement implementation best practices and innovation while nurturing conversation between engaged purchasers, suppliers, and community members across Canada. Participants engaged in community discussion and networking between sessions that highlighted federal progress on social procurement, how to build relationships between supply and demand, and celebrated Social Procurement Champion Award winners.

During the event Buy Social Canada also launched a new free resource, Community Benefits in Construction: Mandate, Design and Implement Guide, which supports community advocates, policy makers and project owners who want to create community benefits in construction, infrastructure, and development projects. 

As we celebrate our tenth anniversary this year, it was also important to acknowledge our founder, David LePage.

David’s work in this field started far over a decade ago. David has been instrumental in the development of a supportive ecosystem for social enterprise in Canada, through founding social enterprises like EMBERS and Community Impact Real Estate (CIRES) in Vancouver, advocacy and systems change through Social Enterprise Council of Canada and Social Enterprise World Forum, and education through the inclusion of social enterprise modules in the University of Fredericton MBA and the development of Buy Social Canada’s Social Procurement Professional Certificate Program.

David has been a mentor and coach to so many people, always generously giving his time and expertise to support shifting our marketplace to produce greater social value.

“Identifying the need for more purchasers who commit to buying with impact, David started Buy Social Canada a decade ago, with the vision of shifting our marketplace decisions from lowest price to best value… I’m opening our time together with so much gratitude, for all that has been, and all that will be achieved due to the generosity, patience and persistence of everyone here with us today.” – Elizabeth Chick Blount, CEO of Buy Social Canada

Did you or a colleague miss the event? You can view the session recordings here to relive the highlights.

Key takeaways

Always be on the lookout for the next opportunity

Speakers highlighted the importance of creativity when putting social procurement into action.

Associate Deputy Minister Michael Mills shared that Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) is looking at how they can better measure and analyze their current spend and impact to identify new opportunities and areas for improvement in Federal procurement. He also discussed how PSPC is exploring incentives to ensure subcontractors are also practicing social procurement.

Adapt, adapt, adapt

For both the demand and supply sides, it’s important to stay adaptable when implementing social procurement. The journey of social procurement design and implementation isn’t linear and should be iterative by nature. As we often like to say at Buy Social Canada, social procurement isn’t the end goal, it’s the tool to achieve your goals.

We heard this same wisdom from speakers. Victoria Armit from Centre for Inclusive Economy, Golden Mile (CIEO) shared that for the Aecon-Golden Mile (A-GM) Joint Venture they had to embrace the need for contingencies and be adaptable as projects they had anticipated working on were delayed. As a social enterprise, this meant adding new services and finding new locations for work.

Alisha Masongsong from the City of Vancouver also emphasised the importance of creativity. She shared that the Third-Party Monitor role required on City of Vancouver Community Benefit Agreement (CBA) projects has been crucial to the success of projects when meeting targets, because they can be more flexible and create solutions – such as employment opportunities meetings and reverse trade shows – while also building relationships and trust.

Celebrate successes, but remain engaged

We heard some inspiring stories of impact from speakers during the event. Nearly all of A-GM’s employees were previously unemployed. The City of Vancouver CBA projects are all meeting and exceeding targets. The City of Winnipeg has had success with direct hiring of social enterprises for small contracts that also support the City’s poverty reduction goals.

At the same time, speakers also highlighted that you should resist becoming complacent, and stay engaged with stakeholders to implement social procurement. Many people shared the advice of finding good partners to support your mission and goals, while others spoke about the importance of patience combined with persistence and resources.

As Buy Social Canada CEO Elizabeth Chick Blount shared in her opening land acknowledgement, “social procurement is a tool to reclaim power from the ‘invisible hand’ of capitalism which fails communities and those most in need, and work towards a decolonial marketplace.”

It’s our responsibility to stay committed and keep advancing social procurement.

Insights from speakers

“We’re really looking at procurement as an impact activity. We’re trying to go beyond just supplying the goods and services that the government needs to deliver its mandate, to looking at how we can maximize the value.” – Associate Deputy Minister Michael Mills, Public Services and Procurement Canada

“We’ve started thinking about projects more holistically. We’re thinking about livable communities… how can these projects deliver benefits across the board to folks living in that area?” – Director General Mark Matz, Infrastructure Canada

“Construction projects impact our local economies and labour markets whether intended or not. Projects present an opportunity to bring long-lasting benefits in communities in which they occur.” – Charlotte Lewthwaite, Buy Social Canada, launching the new Community Benefits in Construction Guide

 “Find the small opportunities and get creative. Demand and available services don’t always align so it’s helpful to find community partners to support the growth and capacity building of suppliers and construction purchasers.” – Alisha Masongsong, City of Vancouver

“Identify your industry partner that can smooth the peaks and valleys of your enterprise’s early-stage growth.” – Victoria Armit, Centre for Inclusive Economic Opportunity, Golden Mile

“Relationship building takes time. Be patient, go to in-person events. be available to answer questions. Keep engaging and moving forward, even if it’s baby steps.” – Corinne Evason, City of Winnipeg

“Engagement doesn’t happen overnight, and it needs resource around it.” – Tori Williamson, Buy Social Canada

“We see social procurement and social enterprise as a way to advance community wealth building by doing community economic development in a way that is sustainable and permanently keeps resources within the community through enterprises that are local, democratic, and inclusive.” – Candice Zhang, Ontario Nonprofit Network, accepting a Social Procurement Champion Award

“By being intentional about the value we want to create through our purchasing, we can create positive impacts on our communities.” – Sohrab Sohrabi, City of Edmonton, accepting a Social Procurement Champion Award

Final thoughts

In the next decade our communities will continue to be challenged with complex and compounding issues.  Social procurement has shown and will continue to be a tangible solution that prioritizes community well-being over extraction and exploitation.

The policy groundwork that has been laid today across many municipalities, institutions and the federal government will begin to bear fruit in the form of social value outcomes. We expect to see more social enterprises contracting with government. More inclusive employment on construction and infrastructure projects, and more public reporting of these outcomes.

As social procurement practices develop and become more widespread, we will continue to learn, iterate, and improve processes so we can make the money we spend work towards our community goals.

Congratulations again to our Social Procurement Champion Award Winners, Ontario Nonprofit Network, City of Edmonton and City of Winnipeg, and thank you to everyone who joined us for this energizing event.

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