Social procurement perceptions range from extortion to essential

Nov 25th, 2021

At Buy Social Canada, we are always talking about social procurement. Recently we’ve been conducting interviews to assess the current understanding of social procurement across government, business, and social enterprise sectors. Here is what we heard.

We asked a few very simple open ended, non-empirical, questions. Below there is depth and breadth of how social procurement is perceived. There is no scientific, academic, or rational foundation to this research.  This is a collection of comments and replies, but we want to share what we heard, the challenges and opportunities it offers. And our response from Buy Social Canada.

Question: How would you define or describe social procurement, the effort to leverage a social value from existing purchasing of goods, services, and construction?

Responder #1: Social procurement is an extortion scheme

Social procurement is nothing more than an extortion scheme, designed to force businesses to do something ‘good’ to compete or complete a contract. This is nothing that a business would, or should be expected to do, because bottom line is all about the profit to be made in a contract. (But we do give to a local charity if we make enough money.)

Responder #2: Social Procurement is a gateway to socialism

Any idea that government spending could be designed to increase the social outcomes of a contract, like diversity, social inclusion, etc. has all the under pinning of creating a socialist state. Social Procurement, along with living wage, etc. all add up to a slippery slope toward full blown socialism.

Responder #3: Social procurement is an oxymoron

You can’t have those two words in the same phrase: social and procurement are opposite endeavors. They’re contradictory terms. And two opposites in the same phrase is an oxymoron.

Responder #4: Social procurement is misleading

I thought we were here to talk about social media.

Respondent #5: Nice idea, but we have a budget

Social procurement is a nice idea, a very good concept, but there is no way the people I work with are going to be able to use it.  In government and at non-profits, we always buy the cheapest product to meet our budget. 

Responder #6: Social procurement is a purpose business practice

As a purpose business, or a shared value business to use Porter’s term, we attempt to create both economic and social value. Adding a social value to our existing procurement should be a ‘no brainer’ – we’ll need to learn how, but we should probably be going on that journey.

Respondent #7: We are the social value in social procurement

As a social enterprise we are the social value in social procurement, meeting the customer’s needs at an appropriate price and creating social value in our business model.

Buy Social Canada’s Response:

Every purchase has a social, economic, cultural, and environmental impact. Social procurement is about using your existing purchasing to capture those impacts to achieve overarching institutional, governmental, or individual goals that help shape inclusive, vibrant and healthy communities. We believe in the power of purchasing to build communities that are rich in human, social, cultural, physical and economic capital. 

Want to explore social procurement myths and facts, the business opportunities, and join the social procurement journey with your organization? 

Check out Buy Social Canada resources, tools, and learning opportunities.

Contact Liz (Elizabeth@buysocialcanada.com) or Tori (tori@buysocialcanada.com) to set up a time to discuss.

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