Three Takeaways from Queensland’s Social Procurement Roundtable

Three Takeaways from Queensland’s Social Procurement Roundtable

Last month, White Box Enterprises, in collaboration with the Institute for Public Administration Australia (IPAA) Queensland, brought together a select group of leaders from the public and social enterprise sectors in Queensland to explore the latest developments in social procurement.

The Roundtable, facilitated by Alex Hannant from Griffith University’s Yunus Centre, was one of many events and conversations that will feed into the slipstream of the Social Enterprise World Forum to be held in Brisbane in September.

But before we give you the event run-down, what is social procurement?

Social procurement is when you purchase works or goods or services and in doing so make a deliberate choice to buy additional social value. This can include buying from a social enterprise, an Indigenous business, or requiring suppliers to create jobs for disadvantaged groups.

With a range of protocols and policies regarding procurement across all levels of government, the Roundtable prompted an important conversation around the nature of social procurement from multiple perspectives.

The top three takeaways from the Roundtable are outlined below.

  1. The need to consider policy incentives

Whilst there are existing clauses for government agencies to consider social procurement, offering clarity within these policies can provide incentives to buyers within government agencies to consider social and community providers.

Over the duration of the Roundtable there was considered discussion on why there has not been greater investment in social enterprise by government purchasers and how social procurement could be encouraged.

One participant reflected on the challenges faced within government. “We need courageous acts from the people writing the cheques,” going on to explain that many opportunities require an understanding of government tendering, so it can be hard for emerging social enterprises to breakthrough as they develop their capacities and capabilities.

Although setting targets or introducing incentives might seem like the obvious way to solve these challenges, there was a note of caution from one participant.

“Targets can be hard to establish as they create points of failure and risk. We need to understand that we can set targets in multiple ways, for example, a percentage of spend, a fixed dollar amount, or even at the agency level, rather than the whole of government.”

The roundtable saw social enterprises provide some further perspective on why social enterprises can find it challenging to break into the public sector market.

A founder of a tech social enterprise who attended the Roundtable said a significant barrier was “the decentralised nature of government buying.” The founder explained that he found it hard to keep abreast of opportunities or navigate the tendering process.

With challenges on both sides of the procurement process and with so much more said, what other insights were shared?

  1. The Opportunity to Learn from Others

Roundtable participants had the opportunity to hear from Jeremy Levine from the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions, Victoria Government, who shared insights from the rollout of social procurement across its many agencies via the Victorian Social Procurement Framework.

The Victorian Government Social Procurement Framework launched in 2018, one year before the pandemic hit.. “As part of the framework, we rolled out social procurement policies across all departments—from cupcakes to construction.”  said Levine.

This approach has led to vast engagement with social enterprises and Indigenous businesses, and requires inclusive employment from their supply chains.

Major projects have embraced social procurement which has resulted in the creation of hundreds of millions of dollars in social impact.

When Levine was asked as to what could have been done better:

“We needed a clearer change management approach and capacity building for government buyers,” Levine explained. “We also could have spent more time developing systems to measure outcomes and indirect spend.”

As one participant from the Queensland public sector pointed out, “Data measurement is important, but it shouldn’t be used as an excuse to delay taking action. We know we can create an impact if we spend our dollars with social and sustainable businesses.”

  1. The Olympics and Beyond

No roundtable would be complete without discussing future opportunities, so while it may have been leftfield, we were pleased to hear our attendees look ahead as far as 2032, when the Olympics will arrive in Brisbane.

“The Olympics 2032 will be a huge opportunity for social procurement in Queensland. It will enable things to be done differently and provide a significant point of gravity.”

Others agreed that the Olympics’ sustainable sourcing agenda will be a significant opportunity to grow social procurement in Queensland.

But as one participant pointed out, the social enterprise sector in Queensland is still nascent and will need support across all sectors to rise to the occasion.

“Government organisations are powerful buyers who not only influence the market but are thought leaders in the way they do things. We need to broaden the demand for social procurement and impact procurement across public and private sectors. Government-supported strategies can pull this lever by growing awareness and building the sector.”

On where to start, an attendee commented, “Individual agencies and local governments can be interesting places for change – they’re smaller and have more autonomy… but we still need social procurement champions within government at a senior level to see broadscale change.”

Next steps

As part of the closing address, Hannant recommended that the Social Enterprise World Forum to be held in September provided a timely opportunity for government and social enterprise stakeholders to continue this important conversation. All participants agreed that this would be an appropriate next step to move things forward.

As always, there is much more nuance and depth to this conversation and many more useful and compelling insights, so don’t hesitate to reach out for more information:

White Box Enterprises would like to thank the IPAA Queensland team for their collaborative spirit and dedication to innovation and thought leadership. White Box Enterprises would also like to thank Griffith University’s Yunus Centre and the roundtable participants for making this event a success in challenging thinking about procurement in public purpose work.


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