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Addressing Social Inequality through Social Procurement - A Path Forward

Provincial and federal governments purchase billions of dollars in goods and services every year – what if a portion of those purchases could help address homelessness, food insecurity, poverty, and mental health needs?

In November 2022, Social Purpose Organizations (SPOs) and government agencies came together to discuss the path forward for social procurement in Newfoundland and Labrador. The event was hosted by the N.L. Social Enterprise and Innovation Coalition in collaboration with Buy Social Canada and brought together 89 leaders representing 45 agencies.

“Social procurement can be understood as the use of purchasing power to create social value. In the case of public sector purchasing, social procurement involves the utilization of procurement strategies to support social policy objectives.” - Barraket and Weissman, 2009

Several key recommendations emerged through two days of in-depth dialogue to inform emergent provincial government policies on social procurement.

#1 - Set Clear & specific goals

Social Procurement is only as successful as the goals it hopes to achieve. To ensure success, agencies recommend defining key outcomes and indicators of success prior to the implementation of social procurement practices. While pan-government goals are essential, there is an opportunity for individual government departments to target their own specific goals, such as supporting Indigenous-owned businesses, hiring more newcomers, or tackling food security.

“Willingness on the purchaser’s part to listen to the opportunities that could be created is one of the biggest shifts in social procurement from transitional procurement. It is a collaborative approach to create community value”. - David LePage, Buy Social Canada

#2 - Define a multi-sector advisory committee

#3 - Develop internal and external training

#4 - Champion social procurement through an all-of-government approach

#5 - Design an adaptable framework

#6 - Test, monitor, and evaluate

Social Procurement in Action

Social procurement is already being tested in this province. One example of social procurement in action is Choices for Youth’s (CFY) Impact Construction social enterprise's work to renovate several Newfoundland and Labrador Housing (NLHC) units on Beothuk Street in St. John’s. This project employed generated 8,000 employment hours for 24 youths, many of whom would otherwise not have the opportunity to access the labour market and learn a skilled trade.

This example of social enterprise employment resulted in $24,240 in paid income tax contributions and savings of $77,183 to the income support system. Each of the 24 youth participants received training in hard and soft skills and was paired with a support worker who helped them navigate the housing system, re-engage with the education system, connect with mental health supports, and reconnect with family.

The data shows that engaging youth in this manner has a meaningful impact on their social determinants of health. Youth engaged in CFY’s social enterprises exhibit a 25% increase in stable housing and a 20% increase in access to mental health supports.

As Newfoundland and Labrador navigates mounting challenges in its communities, from homelessness to mental health, its government should seek innovative solutions to ensure taxpayer investments can more effectively address these challenges. Social procurement can be part of this solution. By allocating funds that would already be spent toward generating social value and by prioritizing social value as part of the tendering process, our province can unlock more support and stability for its vulnerable populations.

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