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the Centre for Learning, Social Economy and Work at OISE, the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto
 

Selling Social: Experiences of Social Enterprises with Social Procurement and Social Purchasing

 
 
Customers making their buying decisions on a basis other than price or sometimes even quality are not a new phenomenon.  Examples like Girl Guide Cookies show us that we sometimes opt for social value in our purchases. in other words, the social benefits that may be generated from our purchases could lead us away from the more typical considerations of price and quality. When individual customers make personal — sometimes one-off — purchasing decisions based on the social benefits that their purchases could create, we call that social purchasing. When individuals in organizations work through formal bidding processes for their buying decisions on behalf of the organizations, we call that social procurement. Oftentimes, the costs are higher for social procurement compared to social purchasing. Either way, revenue generated from social procurement and social purchasing is increasingly becoming a critical element for social enterprises to stay sustainable.
 
In the fall of 2017, we conducted a pan-Canadian survey of social enterprises to understand their experiences in social procurement. Following the survey, from the summer of 2018 to the fall of 2019, our team conducted research on 19 social enterprises across the country to get a better understanding of their experiences with social procurement and social purchasing. These cases offer a more nuanced picture of how different social enterprises have approached social procurement and social purchasing.  
 
Our findings show that many social enterprises have found it difficult to participate in social procurement because they are often too small to provide the kind of goods and services that are procured through formal bidding processes. In addition, organizational purchasers — i.e., governments, businesses and non-profit organizations — remain primarily interested in making purchasing decisions based on price and quality. Social value or benefits are often after-thoughts, if they come into consideration at all.  
 
For social enterprises interested in pursuing social procurement and social purchasing, the findings of our research highlight a range of practical strategies based on the lessons learned by the cases featured in the project. For policy developers, the findings emphasize the need for a heightened awareness of the limitations and barriers facing social enterprises in engaging with social procurement and social purchasing. For students and scholars of the social economy, the findings illustrate how social enterprises are situated in the growing trend of social procurement and social purchasing, using concrete examples.
 
We are in the process of preparing a book presenting the 19 cases of social enterprises and their experiences with social procurement and social purchasing. We have also produced a set of factsheets, one of each of our 19 cases, which are available on this website through the links on the right.  In addition, there are a number of summary reports and findings fact sheets prepared based on the survey from the fall of 2017, also available on this website through the links on the right.
 
 

 
sshrc
 
This project is supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
 

To learn more about this project:

 


 

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Contact Us

If you're interested in learning more about the project, please email Jennifer Sumner at jennifer.sumner@utoronto.ca.

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