Thursday, February 14, 2013

Procurement - Using Social Enterprise is Important to a Sustainable Community

Many Thanks for our guest blogger for this article.  
by: Michelle Hurtubise, Executive Director, London Intercommunity Health Centre

As a community health centre, we have as our Vision that we are “building opportunities for health and inclusive communities.”  In our recent strategic plan, our Board of Directors identified that as an organization we wanted to ensure that we were taking an active role in influencing public policy and supporting initiatives in our community that made a difference in the lives of the people we serve and the communities we work in.

That has meant that we have spent some time looking at our own education and policies as an organization. In the fall of 2012, our Board of Directors met around the topic of “health equity” and what that meant to us at a strategic and operational level. Health equity can be defined as the differences in the quality of health status and health care access across different populations based on their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation/identity, socio-economic groups, etc.  As we considered what this meant for us as an organization, our vision, mission and values, the Board concluded that one of the ways that we support equity in our community is by supporting initiatives that support inclusion and community development.

From there, one of the concrete actions was for the Board to provide direction that as a purchasing policy we would support integrating into our purchasing policies the clear statement that support for social enterprises would be a critical factor in assessing our purchasing decisions. For some time, the Health Centre has made a choice to support local businesses – not just in London, but in the neighbourhoods where we are located. We hold staff and community events at the Aeolian Hall and order from local restaurants. However, this direction from the Board of Directors took us one step further.  As part of our procurement processes – how we solicit proposals to deliver services, we would include the support of social enterprise wherever possible.  If two quotes for service are comparable and one is a social enterprise, we will choose the social enterprise.

Why have we made this decision?  Lots of small businesses in the community would benefit economically and provide employment for worthy individuals.  Social enterprises often support individuals who face barriers to the employment market.  Non-profits with social enterprise are providing significant support in developing future employment goals for individuals involved in the enterprise. The impact goes far beyond the job and the economic development. Social enterprise supports part of our mission and a core value – “we actively seek ways to include and welcome members of our communities to participate in meaningful ways.”

For this reason, as a $7.5 million dollar business in London, we have made a decision to support social enterprise wherever possible.  It’s not always smooth as social enterprises work through their business learnings, but we have found that the level of customer support and engagement is worth the return on investment.  Perhaps one day, we will have our own social enterprise to offer to the community.