As the City of Toronto’s Director of Social Policy, Analysis and Research, Denise Andrea Campbell has worked tirelessly to champion poverty reduction and youth success strategies in priority neighbourhoods. She has advised on strategy for leading foundations including The J.W. McConnell Family Foundation and has also worked internationally on race and gender policies in numerous United Nations forums. In her guest blog post, Denise discusses how the City’s new social procurement program is helping create pathways to prosperity.
In 2006, community leaders in Flemingdon Park asked me why the City couldn’t hire young people through its procurement process.
Community leaders knew that youth employment was key to neighbourhood development in Toronto. They knew that the City, together with United Way was committed to taking action on neighbourhood improvement with the recent launch of the first Strong Neighbourhoods Strategy. And they saw City construction projects—part of the City’s annual budget of $1.8 billion for goods and services—as a perfect opportunity to train and hire under-employed young people.
They believed the City could make it happen.
We did. It took us 10 years.
Procurement in a large institution like the City is often inflexible, governed by policies, laws, and decades-long industry practices that create seemingly insurmountable barriers to targeted spending.
But we also knew, as the community knew, that social procurement could be a game-changer.
Social procurement has the power to create pathways to prosperity. Research indicates that Aboriginal and minority-owned businesses create jobs in their communities. The social enterprise business model is all about creating social and economic benefits for marginalized groups. So if even 5% of our annual procurement were leveraged to create economic opportunities for those in poverty, that could be a $75 million investment towards inclusive economic development.
Hawthorne Food & Drink, a social enterprise supported by the Toronto Enterprise Fund—a partnership between United Way and all three levels of government—employs individuals facing barriers including poverty and homelessness.
So we continued to push.
Working closely with partners, we began pilot initiatives to train and hire youth in a Weston-Mount Dennis youth space renovation in 2008, thanks to United Way funding. The City also worked with Toronto Community Housing and the Daniels Corporation to embed workforce development into the supply chain of the Regent Park Revitalization. And given my division’s focus on social development, we made sure to set an example, procuring from social enterprises whenever possible. A big win came in 2013 when City Council adopted a Framework for Social Procurement to move us from one-off successes to institutional practice.
Researching other jurisdictions, piloting approaches in City contracts, and building partnerships allowed us to have the evidence, the workable model, and a solid policy for Council to consider.
United Way–supported social enterprises like Interpreter Services Toronto, which trains and employs newcomer and refugee women—are now in a better position to compete for, and benefit from, City contracts as diverse suppliers through the Toronto Social Procurement Program.
Three years and nine pilot projects later, on May 3, 2016, Toronto City Council unanimously adopted the Toronto Social Procurement Program. The program drives inclusive economic growth in Toronto by encouraging buyers and vendors to do business with certified diverse suppliers, including those owned by people from equity-seeking communities and social enterprises in all City procurement. A particular focus will be on contracts below $50,000 for which smaller businesses like social enterprises are better able to compete.
This 10-year journey has been long, and isn’t over yet. We’re taking steps to build a broader social procurement ecosystem. We want to create a climate that allows businesses owned by equity-seeking communities—women, racialized and Aboriginal peoples and newcomers—and social enterprises to compete for City contracts on their own or as part of a partnership. With the support of the Atkinson Foundation and with the participation of the United Way, we are also leading the AnchorTO Network to spread social procurement practices across all of Toronto’s public sector institutions.
So the next time community leaders ask us to create economic opportunities for their residents, we know we have built the foundation to now answer ‘yes.’