Social Procurement Can Foster Inclusive, Sustainable and Healthy Communities

What if we became more deliberate and focused in our spending of money so that we not only acquire the goods and services we need, but also create a clear benefit or multiple benefits for our community?

Good Nature Groundskeeping (GNG) has been providing high quality professional landscape maintenance services across Ottawa since 2008. They are a not-for-profit social enterprise which provides meaningful jobs, a supportive work environment and skills training to individuals who have barriers to employment. Some of these barriers include mental illness, risk of homelessness, poverty, and lack of education and training. By choosing GNG, customers not only receive quality service but support the provision of employment opportunities which would not likely exist otherwise. On its website, GNG boasts of the social responsibility in their DNA and their “community-minded approach, and with that, a vested interest in the properties that [they] maintain.” GNG was able to get started as a result of a three-year pilot project funded by Ottawa Community Housing (OCH), a publicly funded organization, to provide landscaping services on OCH’s properties. They are now working with some of the largest property owners in Ottawa.

Every purchase of goods and services, public and private, has an economic, environmental and social impact. Governments are a major purchaser player, using tax and other revenue dollars they collect. The federal government alone spends $18-20 billion per year procuring goods and services.

Social procurement does not necessarily entail increasing government spending. Rather, it serves to redirect spending, where appropriate, to address community concerns and priorities.

This year, the City of Peterborough is scheduled to spend $286.3 million on municipal services and $57.4 million in capital investments.

In recognition of the ever-increasing social consequences of the purchases they make, a growing number of communities in Canada and around the world are developing and implementing social procurement strategies. Social procurement is about ensuring that purchasing decisions positively contribute to the overall health of a community and the local economy by establishing social, in addition to financial, purchasing criteria.

Peterborough City staff were asked by Council to deliver a report on social procurement and social enterprise. Their report has been issued and is scheduled to be debated in an upcoming council meeting.

Done correctly, the development of social procurement guidelines begins with community consultation. Citizens are encouraged to voice their interests regarding issues facing their community and what priorities could be addressed by a change in purchasing policy.

The involvement of city councillors in shaping those priorities is critical as well.

From there, a social procurement framework would then need to be established to provide city staff with the tools by which to implement those priorities and co-benefits.

Social procurement does not necessarily entail increasing government spending. Rather, it serves to redirect spending, where appropriate, to address community concerns and priorities.

Community Benefit Agreements (CBAs) are another tool in the social procurement toolbox.

CBAs are predetermined and defined agreements about social outcomes attached to major infrastructure, land development, bridge, road, school, hospital, or transit contracts. Agreed to social outcomes might include job training and employment for people who face barriers, and purchasing of subcontracted services or goods from social enterprises or local suppliers.

Unbundling large contracts is another strategy that can be employed. Let’s say the city was going to award a large landscaping contract — one that was too large for any local private business or social enterprise to take on. The City could choose to ‘unbundle’ a portion of the contract into separate pieces to allow those companies to bid.

Pilot projects can be used to demonstrate the capacity of a social enterprise to deliver and measure agreed-upon outcomes such as tracking the number of barriered persons who avail themselves of the training and employment provided to transition to full-time work.

Social procurement is not limited to government spending. Other anchor institutions like universities or school boards, as well as private enterprises, could implement such guidelines. Some already are. Social procurement is an opportunity for corporations to demonstrate their commitment to sustaining the communities in which they operate.

This is one very tangible way in which we citizens can have an active say in the multiple benefits of spending decisions that our institutions make.

Lead photo shows possibility cards from a recent community conversation on social procurement led by David LePage of Buy Social Canada. Photo by Yvonne Hollandy.

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Ralph Gutkin

Ralph Gutkin

Ralph Gutkin is the co-chair of the Kawartha Social Economy Network (KSEN) and CEO of Clean Slate Enterprises, a federally incorporated non-profit organization.