Last week, I attended the launch of a new social enterprise purchasing toolkit, created by Vancouver-based enp(enterprising non-profits). The goal of the toolkit is to help organizations – nonprofits, corporations, and the public sector – leverage their purchasing choices.

Okay, sounds good, but what does that actually mean? To demonstrate their point, enp hosted the event at the YWCA Hotel, a social enterprise in downtown Vancouver. The food was catered by Potluck Café, another social enterprise, and the wine – a tasty Pinot Noir – was produced by Nk’Mip Cellars, North America’s first Aboriginal owned and operated winery, located in Osoyoos, BC.

Toolkit for social purchasing raises awareness

But this wasn’t just a feel-good exercise; it was an example of social enterprise purchasing in action. enp chose to use suppliers who also work toward a social mission, not just a profit margin. So why aren’t more people doing this? Awareness is a big part of the equation, and something this new toolkit is hoping to address. It teaches people how to create buy-in for social purchasing, and provides a long (and growing) list of social enterprises ready to do business.

Right now, when the office manager at Corporation X needs copy paper, she’ll probably go with her usual supplier, or barring that, the lowest price she can find. Once she reads this toolkit, she’ll be able to explain to her manager why social enterprise purchasing is a viable alternative and how it can fit into their current CSR or purchasing strategy.

Social enterprises ready to do business

The good news is that this is already happening at some forward-thinking institutions. Like the University of British Columbia, where procurement professional Victoria Wakefield makes a point of finding social enterprises to do business with. As she points out, those in charge of multi-million dollar budgets need to be corporately responsible, and outsourcing globally when oil sits at $80 a barrel just doesn’t make sense. In her words, “Outsourcing should be illegal if a comparable local option is available.”

I tend to agree, especially when I see how many local businesses are actually social enterprises. I may not be managing multi-million dollar accounts, but I know that the next time I want to make a purchase, my first stop will be the social enterprise marketplace.

Also worth checking out: The Social Purchasing Portal (SPP).

Nicole Zummach
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Nicole Zummach is the co-founder of SEE Change Magazine. She has worked in the publishing industry for more than two decades, and has spent most of her career researching and writing about civil society and the nonprofit sector. Contact her at

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