Retrain Your Chain: The Social Procurement Movement
Nicole Hanbury is currently completing her Master’s degree at the School of Public Policy at SFU. She is a Project Coordinator with LEDlab, working with Buy Social Canada on demonstrating the value proposition of social procurement.
It takes one year to become an expert on social procurement. Seriously, when I started working with Buy Social Canada in the summer, my boss David LePage joked that by the end of my LEDlab contract I would be among a handful of social procurement experts in Canada. I’ve now had about one year of experience researching the social economy. While I’m not so sure I would self-proclaim that expert status any time soon, I now feel informed enough to engage in academic discussion on the subject with some authority.
I got introduced to the social economy by accident. In my first year of my public policy program, I got involved in a project with the BC Centre for Employment Excellence on youth unemployment in BC. I thought to myself: “Well, Nicole, you’re an economist, researching the labour market seems like it would be right up your alley.” Of course, the project description used words like “social enterprise” and “youth facing barriers to employment” but these didn’t really mean much to me at the time. I saw no reason I couldn’t apply my traditional supply-demand thinking to them. [If you’re on this blog, you probably realize just how wrong I was.]
My team spent the first 2 months of the 8-month project learning the vocabulary. And really, that’s half the battle, I think. It’s near impossible to read publications within the social innovation community without having a basic understanding of the vocabulary and their definitions. Understanding the word “barrier” in context is, in and of itself, a barrier to entering the community.
Through my project, I got introduced to David LePage. In fact, nearly everyone I spoke to asked: “Have you spoken to David LePage yet?” He was endearingly referred to as the “social enterprise guru”. I walked into a meeting with him, feeling confident about what he was going to say. I was about 7 months into the research at this point. I could not have been more wrong. He began talking about social procurement, and it was an idea that hadn’t come up on our radar yet. A couple months later, the opportunity through LEDlab to work further with David LePage on social procurement research came up, and I jumped at the chance.
“Social Procurement is simply adding a social value to your existing purchasing. You can generate business and community value without added costs. Social procurement adds a social value consideration to your current evaluation of price, quality, and environment of the goods and services you purchase.” (Buy Social Canada 2017)
In one year, the perspective I’ve developed is:
Corporate social responsibility is a red herring. Businesses are only responsible for their supply chain if we use our collective purchasing power to hold them responsible for it and if we use our collective voting power to make government hold them responsible for it.
Social procurement is a tough sell. It requires retraining procurement staff to discard many of their built business relationships with suppliers, and try to build new relationships with new suppliers. When procurement staff is pressed for time, they won’t be able to engage in it unless senior level management makes it clear to their staff that this a priority for them. Procurement officers need to be given the mandate to change their procurement processes.
The green movement is working. The social movement is happening. The traditional business model is under threat. The next billion customers won’t look like the last billion. We need to convince more businesses that they need to change their business model now and get ahead of the curve. Government regulations are a-coming for you. The federal government is developing a Social Innovation and Finance Strategy. The City of Vancouver is developing a Community Benefits Agreement policy. Governments, anchor institutions, and even private corporations are beginning the transition to a social procurement model. Those that do not keep up will find their market share diminish, and their profit margins erode.
This is what I think I know today, and I’m sure this will shift over time. In the future, I hope there is more widespread use and understanding of these terms and practices, in order to grow the social procurement movement.
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