Inclusive Procurement Works and We’re going to Help Scale It Up

A new inclusive procurement cohort creates opportunity for 10 cities to learn from trail blazers who came before
March 18, 2019 AT 11:00 AM
By Ben Hecht  |  Contributor
Ben Hecht is the president and CEO of Living Cities, which works to re-engineer obsolete public systems and connect low-income people and underinvested places to opportunity.
By Brandee McHale  |  President
Brandee McHale is President of the Citi Foundation and Director of Corporate Citizenship at Citi.

Mayors and their teams are always looking for innovative solutions to their hardest challenges – and that’s what the City Accelerator is all about. Over the last five years, 22 cities have taken part in 12 to 18 month communities of practice to learn from each other and collaboratively work on overcoming city challenges that adversely impact their residents. They have also tested new solutions for other cities to replicate. The solutions often involve multiple departments and agencies, incorporate new partners and outreach to stakeholders, require extensive data gathering and analysis, and can influence budget allocations and other municipal systems. What works, they scale, what doesn't, they discard. And we capture it all in the City Accelerator implementation guides -- from process to results to strategies that work -- so local governments everywhere can replicate these innovations.

We recently hosted a cohort on the theme of inclusive procurement with the cities of Charlotte, Chicago, Los Angeles, Memphis and Milwaukee. The goal was to amplify and accelerate innovation in an area where cities have a significant ability to help shrink racial income and wealth gaps in their communities by intentionally contracting with diverse vendors and contractors. Each of these cities improved how they procure goods and services so more local businesses, especially those owned by people of color, can now more easily compete for city contracts, access capital and receive supportive services that contribute to their growth. For instance, a pool of Charlotte businesses recently competed to become vendors with the NBA for the 2019 All Star Game with at least two receiving contracts. Los Angeles hired its first Chief Procurement Officer. Among his multiple achievements, the city developed an online certification platform with a venture owned by a founder of color. Memphis’ spending on MWBEs (minority and women businesses enterprises) increased 20 percent in two years. The City of Chicago made progress towards its commitment to create a universal procurement system across multiple public agencies by deepening its collaboration with sister agencies. And Milwaukee rebranded its inclusion programs and joined with the African-American and other diverse Chambers of Commerce to help promote the newly instituted city-wide buying plan.

When we released the learnings from this cohort in the newest implementation guide, Culture, Collaboration and Capital, we were inundated with requests from other cities interested in getting support to make their procurement systems more inclusive and spur more economic opportunity in their communities. Overcoming legacy process and practice requires a tremendous amount of effort; most of all, it requires political will. Our first cohort of five cities collectively control budgets nearing $11 billion that purchase a wide array of goods and services ranging from city fleets to landscaping. It is estimated that local governments procure $1.5 trillion annually: Imagine the economic impact if all those resources were directed more intentionally to diverse business owners operating and employing people locally within their community? To help more cities adopt inclusive procurement strategies across the country, for the first time, we are going to repeat the theme of inclusive procurement for the next City Accelerator cohort competition.

With this next cohort, 10 cities will be selected in a nationwide competition to take the lessons learned from our first inclusive procurement cohort, apply them locally, and build on the approaches highlighted in the Culture, Collaboration and Capital guide. Participating cities will have access to technical expertise from Griffin & Strong, a law and public policy consulting firm based in Atlanta, GA, with a specialty in disparity studies and supplier diversity consulting, as well as grant dollars to test specific administrative, financial, political or cultural solutions they want to take on. In addition, the new inclusive procurement cohort will benefit from learning first-hand from the five cities (Charlotte, Chicago, Los Angeles, Memphis, and Milwaukee) that participated in the first inclusive procurement cohort.

Previously, we tried to help willing cities adopt City Accelerator-tested ideas through webinars, podcasts and live TED-like talks, in addition to the development of the in-depth guides. We want to increase the chances of cities adopting ideas to improve their procurement systems because we know that local government is uniquely positioned to drive systemic change toward greater economic security, better social outcomes and increased racial equity. If our support for implementing innovations can be the difference between a State of the City address aspiration and the execution of million-dollar contracts for local and diverse vendors -- we’ll take that bet. Join our growing network of high-performing cities who are innovating to close the racial gaps in income and wealth.

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