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Seeking diverse suppliers

By purchasing from diverse suppliers, a college or university can ensure that it is putting money into the community and directly into the hands of its surrounding area and the people who live there.

In an environment where diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is front-page news, many businesses are taking notice of the importance of racial justice and combating other forms of oppression.

In fact, an ever-increasing number of companies are taking bolder steps to be more socially conscious. Colleges and universities, on the other hand, have always been at the forefront of the fight for equal rights, leading the conversation with unique perspectives and allowing great minds to meet and develop new ideas together. One only has to look at the heavy involvement of students in the Civil Rights Movement to see the impact that this coming-together of minds can bring about. It is important then, for institutions to take steps to ensure that the goods and services they use are sourced according to the high standards of ethics they apply to selecting students and delivering education.

A ‘diverse supplier’ is a supplier with at least 51% ownership by an under-represented person or group. The business could be minority-owned, woman-owned, owned by a person in the LGBTQ community, owned by a disabled person, or by other types of underrepresented persons. A small business itself can also be considered a diverse supplier.


Supporting local communities

So why is it important to buy from diverse suppliers? One advantage is the way in which these businesses support local communities. These businesses often operate within local areas and employ local people who may not otherwise be able to find much work. When institutions support these local businesses, they can help put money back into the community, including minority or lower-income areas.

The knock-on effects are mutually-beneficial for the institution and the community involved, leading not only to an improvement in living circumstances for economically disadvantaged people but also to a situation where the educational institution is an integral part of the local community, actively engaging with people and developing new, creative opportunities and interest for future learners.

Larger suppliers may be able to cut costs, but the money spent is less likely to end up in the hands of the local community. By purchasing from diverse suppliers, a college or university can ensure that it is putting money into the community and directly into the hands of its surrounding area and the people who live there.


Flexibility wins resilience

Institutions rely heavily on reputation when recruiting new students. And in today’s socially-conscious culture, young people, who have access to a whole host of information at their fingertips, are incredibly aware when it comes to understanding the attitudes of the institutions where they choose to apply. By actively working with diverse suppliers, institutions can demonstrate to prospective students that they not only care about social issues but also that they are taking direct action to make a positive change. It’s essential to show new students, many of whom make their voices heard during rallies and protests for racial justice and other issues of injustice, how your institution is directly supporting under-represented communities.

Aside from the clear moral benefits of a diverse procurement approach, there are sound business reasons why using diverse suppliers is a good idea. For one, when you focus on small businesses, it allows your institution to work with a wider pool of suppliers. Instead of relying entirely on one supply source, your institution can acquire different supplies from a range of businesses. In the event of supply chain disruption, where one supplier is unable to meet demand, there are other suppliers in the pool ready to take their place. As both the recent global chip shortage and the Covid pandemic have shown us, supply chains can be drastically disrupted without warning, so this flexibility gives institutions more resilience in the face of such disruption. In the same vein, the use of diverse, local suppliers rather than large global suppliers can help ensure production remains relatively local. As a result, these suppliers are less likely to be disrupted by international incidents like the pandemic and other disruptions to international shipping and the global supply chain.


Partnership benefits

Another benefit of partnering with diverse suppliers can be an increase in quality. Suppliers that specialize in a small range of products, with only a small number of employees, are likely to devote much more of their resources to ensure the quality of each individual product. Their commitment to quality can lead them to test and develop new methods to stay at the top of their crafts. This is especially true within minority-owned businesses, where they can apply community knowledge to utilize certain development and manufacturing techniques not often seen within larger factories. While it may come at a higher premium, high-quality materials can be a big selling point for your institution as students may associate your institutional brand with expectations of a higher standard.

Ultimately, businesses today are expected to have a level of social responsibility higher than was expected in the past. It might sound like a mammoth task to seek diverse suppliers and check that they are true to the values they promote. But the right procurement software can help an institution identify diverse suppliers in their area, establish their presence in institutional buying environments, and help procurement departments to promote diversity goals. You can structure bids to align with a diverse sourcing strategy by weighting criteria that matter. You can even design workflows so that you’re highlighting diversity throughout the procurement process. Suppliers can easily provide documentation for you and your team to see, in one place, making it easier to demonstrate how your suppliers are meeting your diversity goals.

Colleges and universities understand the importance of promoting positive ideas and actively creating change by supporting under-represented people, building new relationships, and engaging communities. And with the right partnerships and technology, procurement can support these goals too.

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