From Transaction to Connection: Reducing Barriers for Indigenous Business

From Transaction to Connection: Reducing Barriers for Indigenous Business

 

In June, the Canadian Collaboration for Sustainable Procurement (CCSP) hosted a panel discussion focused on transforming public procurement processes to increase Indigenous participation, sharing best practices for engaging with Indigenous businesses, and lessons learned along the way. 

The session brought together representatives from various government entities and an Indigenous business leader to discuss the challenges faced by Indigenous businesses in public procurement processes and explore strategies to enhance their participation.  

The panel included Michelle Cameron, owner and CEO of Dreamcatcher Promotions; Kim Buksa, Sustainable & Ethical Procurement Manager at the City of Vancouver; Edward Claringbold, Senior Procurement Advisor at the Government of Yukon; and Khusen Shukurov, Director of Supplier Relationship Management at the Ontario Education Collaborative Marketplace (OECM). 

Identifying Challenges 

The panel began by discussing the challenges that public procurement processes create for Indigenous businesses; they highlighted the following barriers: 

  • Lack of awareness of procurement opportunities: Many Indigenous businesses are unaware of opportunities because they are not familiar with bid sites and do not check them regularly.  
  • Lack of resources: Smaller companies frequently struggle with the extensive time and resources needed to find and apply to an RFP or tender. The process involves a lot of documentation, , and is time-consuming, and registering to receive notifications and access to bid documents often requires a fee. 
  • Overwhelming process: Responding to procurement requirements, especially for first-time bidders, is compounded by the lack of available support, making it even more challenging for Indigenous businesses to compete effectively. Such complexity often discourages participation. 
  • Procurement process is taken for granted: There is an assumption that all potential bidders have access to the necessary tools to respond to government opportunities. Many remote communities may lack reliable internet access or even basic equipment like laptops. 
  • Reluctance to work with the government: Due to a build-up of resentment and lack of trust from years of mistreatment coupled with complex and bureaucratic processes, many Indigenous people are hesitant to engage with public institutions. 

Sharing Best Practices 

In response to these challenges, the panel shared best practices to reduce barriers and foster more collaboration and business opportunities, based on their learned experience: 

  • Automatic Notification System: The Government of Yukon has implemented an automatic notification system that sends emails to all subscribed Indigenous businesses, providing comprehensive information and details on every procurement that is released. 
  • Collaboration with Indigenous Nations: Collaborating with Indigenous Band Councils and/or Economic Development Corporations allows for relationship building, creating mutual understanding of each others processes, and finding new ways to support their access to procurement opportunities. 
  • Directory of Indigenous Businesses: Use the various Indigenous Business directories to find relevant suppliers and verify the legitimacy of Indigenous businesses. 
  • Unbundling Contracts: Break down large contracts into smaller, more manageable pieces to enable greater participation from Indigenous businesses, which may lack the capacity to compete for larger projects. This approach promotes economic inclusion and opportunities for these businesses to grow and develop.  
  • Bid Value Reduction Mechanism: Implement mechanisms that increase Indigenous businesses competitive advantage. Such as a Bid Value Reduction, whereby a certain percentage is deducted from the value of the response, based on Indigenous ownership and/or hiring of Indigenous peoples, during the evaluation process.   
  • Foster Supplier Relationships: Acknowledge that Indigenous businesses may prefer not to work directly with the government but could work with suppliers to the government. Play a role in connecting your suppliers to Indigenous businesses to foster lower barrier to entry sub-contracting opportunities.  
  • Recognize Indigenous Support: Allocate points to suppliers who actively support, contract, and engage with Indigenous businesses, peoples, and communities.  
  • Build Relationships: Show genuine interest in engaging through face-to-face meetings rather than impersonal emails. Actively listen to and learn from Indigenous peoples to build better relationships and understanding.  

 

Conclusions 

The panel discussion highlighted the critical importance of rethinking and redesigning procurement processes to be more accessible for Indigenous businesses. By identifying and addressing key barriers—such as lack of awareness, resources, and support—public procurement can evolve to better serve Indigenous peoples. The best practices shared during the discussion offer actionable steps that procurement professionals can implement to foster greater Indigenous participation. 

Moving forward, it is essential for organizations to commit to continuous learning, collaboration, and genuine engagement with Indigenous businesses. These efforts will not only support economic reconciliation and self-sufficiency within Indigenous communities but also enrich the overall procurement landscape with diverse perspectives and innovative solutions. The commitment to building lasting, meaningful relationships with Indigenous suppliers is a crucial step toward achieving a more equitable and inclusive economy.  

 

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