Update

Institutions and Social Procurement – Anchoring Community through Purchasing

Aug 25th, 2020

An anchor institution grounds a community through both relationships and its physical presence. As a public-facing or public-serving institution with a fixed location, there is an innate connection to the community it operates in.

During the pandemic, when so much seems uncertain, anchor institutions are a stable presence. For example,  HOpe Café at Lions Gate Hospital, Vancouver employs people with lived experience of mental illness while connecting hospital visitors with nutritious food.

Colleges, universities, hospitals, and libraries are all examples of anchor institutions that can make significant social impact through their purchasing and workforce development.

In order to operate, anchor institutions purchase goods and services. At a college, each purchase, like landscaping, food services, cleaning, etc. is important to the college’s operation, budget, reputation, and ability to attract the best and brightest to their campus. Unfortunately, many colleges might look anywhere to buy their products or services, looking for the lowest price and bypassing the local economy.  

Or, like York University, they can choose to use social procurement tools to achieve lasting community benefits while conducting their business. Buy Social Canada works with York University to help shape and implement York’s social procurement. York University operates near the Jane and Finch community – a community that has historically experienced chronic unemployment. In 2019, York University passed a social procurement policy, which sought to improve the community in which it operates. As unemployment was a recognised need, York was able to identify opportunities, which could create employment opportunities for members of their community.

How can social purchasing between an anchor institution and a social business increase community capital?

York recently commissioned two building projects including a major campus expansion.  In each building project York specifically required, along with hard financial targets, their contractors to hire locally for jobs and entry-level apprentices and to purchase from local businesses, social and diverse suppliers. Doing so will create employment opportunities for local residents and will provide multiple business pathways for businesses to serve York’s needs. Incorporating social procurement in the projects creates human, physical, social and economic capital. 

Food is another area where anchor institutions can create community value through purchasing. In Winnipeg, Diversity Food Services is an award-winning social enterprise that provides students with local, organic and healthy eating options at 9 locations at the University of Winnipeg while employing people with barriers to employment. In Vancouver, Simon Fraser University highlights certified social enterprise HAVE Café as a catering partner.  In Halifax, the Keshen Goodman Public Library has just signed Stone Hearth Bakery, Nova Scotia’s longest-running employment social enterprise (1) to operate the library café.

There is a relationship just waiting to be cultivated between the goods and services required by the anchor institution and social enterprises and an opportunity to develop social enterprise’s capacity to deliver in the local economy. From a social and community wellbeing perspective, by purchasing from local businesses and social enterprises who provide employment to individuals who may face barriers to employment, the anchor can ensure that their funds employ local workers, and create local economic multiplier impacts (2).  

The win for both sides of this business deal is a partnership that contributes to building a healthy local community! If you’re an anchor institution and you want to harness your purchasing power to transform your community, Buy Social Canada would love to connect with you.


1. Keshen Goodman Library Cafe Announcement

2. DTES Social Enterprise Impact Report, Buy Social Canada (2019)

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