Social Procurement: Purchasing Power for People

Posted on July 16, 2023
By Maureen Owens

Two people speaking as they review inventory

Do our communities benefit from public spending?


What is Social Procurement?

Social procurement is when an organization buys goods or services in a way that has positive benefits for society. It involves the utilization of procurement strategies to support social policy objectives. For example, finding suppliers with sustainability values, who compensate staff fairly, invest in community efforts, and actively work to improve an industry.

The Bigger Picture

Every purchase has an economic, social, and environmental impact. Billions of dollars spent each year on goods, services and infrastructure can open doors to employment and investments in the community, both economically and socially.

In 2016, nine BC local governments joined in commencing a two-year shared learning social procurement pilot for governments and institutional purchasers. With funding from the BC Government, the initiative grew.

The British Columbia Social Procurement Initiative

Today, membership with the British Columbia Social Procurement Initiative (BCSPI) helps make social procurement implementation manageable and achievable. BCSPI helps map organizations' steps toward implementing these new best practices for procurement, beginning with staff onboarding, training, and access to resources and templates.

BCSPI released a 2021/2022 report that features how Local Governments can keep dollars local, build capacity and skills, and strengthen their communities. By changing the culture of public sector procurement, local government spending can be a significant lever to generate positive community impacts. The report benefits all provinces and territories, moving us closer to ending poverty.

Lessons Learned



Identify champions but quickly move to a whole-organization approach where champions are supported, and implementation can occur.

The start of a social procurement journey is usually driven by a champion with decision-making abilities. Council and senior staff support opens the doors for purchasing staff to learn about and implement social procurement. A supportive environment at all levels is key to successful implementation and adoption.


Social procurement represents systems change, and this type of change takes time. Social procurement means shifting from the lowest price to the best value in a system that tends to be risk averse. Integrating social procurement is an iterative process and represents an organizational culture change.


Measurement helps to create a culture of learning, shared experiences and the invitation to work towards a common goal, in this case, community, regional and global goals.


Include social procurement in job postings and make it part of someone's role.

This helps to create continuity within a staff team and ensures that social procurement remains a responsibility in case of turnover. Also, providing professional development for staff is vital to building the knowledge base, capacity and culture change required for social procurement.


Once social procurement is integrated into policy, it is essential to continue implementing it. Set targets and communicate effectively with contractors and suppliers. The policy is not the end goal.

Case Study: Cowichan Valley Regional District

The Cowichan Valley Regional District distributed an RFI (Request for Information), built a database of social value suppliers serving their region, and at the same time educated the community about their social procurement objectives. Suppliers were asked how they incorporated social values into their business operations and the information collected was used to help staff when making purchasing decisions. 

“Be patient and flexible. It’s a journey, not a sprint. Keep learning and trying, not everything you do is going to succeed but eventually, you’ll find something that lands – and it may not always be what you expected!”

– Participant in the Cowichan Valley social procurement project

Poverty Reduction tables can be effective in helping bring awareness to local government and businesses. Local governments and businesses can start the process of a social procurement initiative by asking the following questions:

  • Does the organization have a social or sustainable procurement policy? 
  • Is this policy translating into implementation? 
  • Is implementation becoming integrated into organizational systems? 
  • Are proponents who score highest on social value criteria winning contracts? 
  • Are suppliers being requested to track and measure outcomes? 

This impact report provides a baseline and demonstrates significant movement towards adopting social procurement practices and the areas for improvement. The public sector is encouraged to use procurement practices strategically to achieve broader financial and non-financial outcomes, including improving the well-being of individuals, communities, and the environment by making social value a decision-making criterion when evaluating and awarding contracts.

Watch the recorded conversation on how businesses, suppliers and municipalities are making a difference. 

For communities in British Columbia contact BCSPI for membership details and training sessions.

Poverty Reduction Strategy, Finances, CRP Blogs, Homepage Blog, working poverty, Maureen Owens

Maureen Owens

By Maureen Owens

Maureen is a Manager of Cities with the Communities Ending Poverty team at the Tamarack Institute.

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