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Posted on Jul 22, 2013

Developing the Demand Side

Developing the Demand Side

(or How do we buy what social enterprises sell?)

By David LePage, Enterprising Non-Profits and Michele Fugiel Gartner, Trico Charitable Foundation

Social purchasing is a key element to the success of social enterprises. Social purchasing practices blend a social valuation into all purchasing. So along with price, quality and environmental impact, social value is also a criteria.

Over the years we’ve watched the incremental, but sluggish progress of the development of social purchasing opportunities and agreements.  At previous Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) conferences, we’ve shared our war stories of the struggle to develop a consumer appetite for “social value” as a criteria in purchasing.  (And by consumer we mean the full gamut: government policy, corporate social responsibility & community investment initiatives, and retail buying choices. )

At SEWF 2013, representatives from Scotland and England will share why the UK seems to lead the field in the development and practice of social purchasing.   We can’t explain here some key advances in Scotland and England, but they are quantifiable in number and importance, including: the Commonwealth Games, Scotland’s Community Benefit Policy development, UK Social Value Purchasing Policy, and SE UK’s Buy Social progress.

This isn’t a “Canada lags behind” story, but we certainly haven’t harnessed the full spectrum of opportunity.  We’ve shared some recent successes (and where we’ve missed out, please add to the comments area below this article. It will be great to have a full and robust list by October.)  This progress though is still a list of isolated events, and obviously doesn’t preclude the tremendous effort ahead of us to move this agenda forward.

Congratulations to:

  • The city of Winnipeg for including a measurable social value component to a recent Request for Proposals!
  • Province of BC for moving forward on both a government purchasing policy and adopting a small business accord that emphasizes increasing purchasing as a key component!
  • The 2015 PAN AM games, from the very beginning having inclusive purchasing goals!
  • Social Purchasing Portal in Winnipeg at 10 years of creating local opportunities!
  • And… (add your example below….)

Community Benefit Agreements as government policy and practice are still a rarity, or one-off incidents; sustainable purchasing, as a corporate CSR model, has evolved to generally include environmental practices and measurements, but the social elements barely rise beyond a few examples; and consumer awareness needs continuing encouragement and support to get to scale.   There’s still work to be done & SEWF is a great opportunity to learn.

We’ve attached some resource links to get us thinking about what is possible.

Join us in sharing your successes, struggles and building an international strategy for social purchasing in Calgary at the SEWF2013.

Show that you are buying social by adding the “Buy Social” image to your website.  Courtesy of Social Enterprise UK.

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  1. The growth of B Corporations helps consumers identify which organizations produce conscious positive social and environmental impacts.

    The new Community Contribution Company (CCC) legislation in BC institutionalizes the hybrid model of non-profit and business, creating a blended value social enterprise.

    Both the B Corp certification and the CCC incorporation allow consumers to easily identify and purchase from organizations that directly support communities.

    • Hi Devon,

      Thanks for adding these developments. Both B Corps and CCCs will help consumers (again, of all varieties) to identify social enterprise/businesses when they want to make purchases. These options really show how policy changes can help us to move the needle forward – it’s only one of the options (along side of certifications, public awareness, etc), but a very powerful one. Hope to see you at SEWF!