Community benefits: will cities lead the way?

Community benefits and social procurement are seeing a surge of interest, including from Canadian cities.  Last year, the City of Toronto adopted a social procurement policy.  Now, the City of Victoria, BC has adopted a Social Enterprise and Social Procurement Action Plan,  titled: “Good Jobs + Good Business = Better Community”.  The five-year plan, which grew out of the Mayor’s Social Enterprise and Social Procurement Task Force, aims to strengthen Victoria’s small business sector, provide opportunities for people who are out of the workforce, and grow a strong, inclusive economy.

The plan takes a pragmatic, outcomes-centred approach. It sets out recommended actions to ensure the City’s procurements maximize community benefits, addresses the need to strengthen the small business and social enterprise sectors, and aligns these action items with other economic development tools designed to ensure a more inclusive and sustainable economy (like benchmarking and living wage policies).   The plan also puts an (appropriately) important emphasis on education and outreach, so that vendors, contractors, city staff and social enterprises are engaged in, and fully understand the City’s new approach as it rolls out over the next few years.

Many of the action items echo and reinforce recommendations about public sector adoption of community benefits that I’ve been advocating for a while (including in a just-completed study for Evergreen looking at how Ontario municipalities can maximize the social and economic benefits of infrastructure investments).  While governments at every level can use community benefits to maximize the value of their spending, cities – with their close relationships to local communities and businesses – are ideally positioned to lead the way, building and spreading more equitable growth from the ground up.