Social procurement - Ontario Nonprofit Network


Social procurement

Social procurement helps public benefit organizations support social enterprise and other community benefits, at no extra cost.
Community wealth Social procurement

Social procurement

What is social procurement?

What we buy matters—and who we buy from matters just as much. Some individuals use purchasing power to support particular goals, like buying Canadian-made products or fair trade coffee. They do this because they know that “value for money” goes beyond getting a good deal; it includes supporting organizations that they want to see stick around. With billions at their disposal, governments and public benefit organizations have so much more purchasing power—and the same principle applies. How do we make sure that these entities have a positive social impact when they spend?

Social procurement means taking the opportunity that comes with every purchase to leverage spending for further investments in communities, which can create ripple effects with our collectively spent public dollars. Social procurement can help public benefit organizations put their purchasing dollars to work not just once, but twice by supporting social enterprise and other community benefits, at no extra cost.

Let’s channel the social purchasing power of the public sector and anchor institutions to provide community benefits

There is an opportunity to leverage the purchasing power of the public service and broader public sector (hospitals, schools, municipalities) to promote nonprofit social enterprise. Organizations can buy with social value in mind at any scale, whether it is a government requiring community benefit clauses in infrastructure contracts or universities having their annual meetings catered by a nonprofit social enterprise. Major government infrastructure contracts (e.g. for the construction of transit and highways) and urban development can be designed to include community benefits that support employment opportunities for marginalized communities, procurement opportunities for social enterprises, affordable housing, and other community initiatives. Social procurement policies can direct public sector spending to social enterprises and other diverse suppliers from marginalized communities.

We’re advocating for the Ontario Government to:

  • Implement a robust social procurement strategy across government and the broader public sector
  • Operationalize the commitment to “community benefits” in the Infrastructure for Jobs and Prosperity Act, 2015, and the 2017 Long-Term Infrastructure Plan

We’re working with the Ontario nonprofit sector to:

  • Promote a shared understanding of the critical role played by nonprofit social enterprise and other forms of earned income in sustaining the nonprofit sector
  • Promote purchasing from social enterprises on the part of government, the broader public sector, and nonprofit organizations themselves
  • Share best practices and successes on implementing social procurement policies and practices in all sectors

There is a commitment to the principle of community benefits in Ontario law with the Infrastructure for Jobs and Prosperity Act. ONN and our partners, working under the umbrella of Community Benefits Ontario, are advocating for the Ontario government to animate this principle in policy and practice. We’ve created a policy framework to put this into action. Community Benefits Ontario made a submission to the Ministry of Infrastructure Consultation on the Long-Term Infrastructure Plan related to community benefits. The objective is to help the Ontario government implement community benefits to become “business as usual” in infrastructure procurements, leading to more equitable and sustainable economic growth, social inclusion and shared prosperity. Read our letter to Minister Bob Chiarelli, Ministry of Infrastructure.

Talking about community benefits at Nonprofit Driven 2018

More Resources

Community Benefits Ontario

Ontario Resources

Vancouver Resources

International Resources

For an overview, see Dina Graser. Community Benefits in Policy and Practice: Lessons from the United States and the United Kingdom. Atkinson Foundation. September 2016.

United Kingdom and Northern Ireland

  • The Community Benefits movement has had great success in Wales. Further information about the Welsh Community Benefits Guidance can be found at this link.
  • The Scottish Procurement Reform Act is an excellent example of a community benefits framework. More information on the Act can be found at this link. For a social enterprise perspective, please see Ready for Business (Scotland), Community Benefit Clauses.
  • As of April 2016, Northern Ireland’s “Buy Social” requirements are to be used in procurement above £2m for construction and above £4m for civil engineering. More information at this link.


Infrastructure for Jobs and Prosperity Act, June 4, 2015

Ground-breaking legislation passed in Ontario encouraging community benefits in infrastructure projects

Ontario has taken a major step in the right direction with the passage of Infrastructure for Jobs and Prosperity Act. A large coalition of community partners has been advocating for community benefits to be included in this bill. That’s because Community Benefit Agreements (CBAs) support communities by creating jobs and training opportunities and supporting social enterprise activity and other community amenities. CBAs offer an opportunity to engage marginalized populations, including youth and newcomers, in a range of quality job opportunities as part of a large infrastructure investment.

This achievement is the result of cross-sectoral collaboration of many community agencies, nonprofits, labour groups and social enterprise leaders working together.

However, as we enjoy this victory, it is important to remember that finding meaningful and practical ways to implement this act will be critical, and the Ontario government can benefit from the input of stakeholders and community groups who have expertise to offer in areas ranging from job training to construction to community engagement. We encourage government to consult broadly on regulations when they are developed under the act.

We look forward to working with all stakeholders to discuss next steps and to ensure that the implementation of community benefits legislation works for local communities.



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September 25, 2019
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