Diversifying Supply Chains Takes Commitment and Continued Learning

Originally published in the WBE Canada Magazine; Issue 5. Don’t miss out, subscribe to our magazine HERE.

By Melanie Travers, Director of Sourcing and Supplier Management at Export Development Canada 

The decision to establish a supplier diversity program at Export Development Canada (EDC) was an easy one. Getting it off the ground, on the other hand, has brought along challenges and learnings. Still, we’ve never once questioned whether it was the right thing to do.

The concept of a supplier diversity program dovetails perfectly with our mandate and 10-year corporate strategy: to improve Canada’s international trade performance, with strong environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles at the core of all we do.

Moreover, there’s the potential to help address economic inequality in Canada and to lower our operating costs and supply chain risk, while increasing innovation and getting a better return on investment. It’s a win-win, for EDC and for our suppliers.

In 2021, EDC’s Learning & Development team worked diligently to find the right supplier to provide the welcome kits we send to new hires. They ultimately selected “Ethical Swag”, a WBE certified- and B-corp Certified, Nova Scotia-based, woman-owned and operated business, which uses eco-friendly packaging, audits their suppliers on social compliance, environmental impact, product safety, supply chain security and product quality.

From Ethical Swag’s perspective, the experience has also been a win.

“We’re growing our company and impact as a result of working with organizations like EDC,” said founder and CEO Tara Milburn. “The welcome kits were assembled by residents of an organization that supports individuals of varying abilities, helping the residents gain vital skills and connection to the community. We are able to impact lives through meaningful work by harnessing the buying power of EDC.”

The goal of a supplier diversity program is clear: foster greater participation of diverse suppliers (companies majority owned, operated and controlled by those from equity-seeking groups such as women, LGBTQ2+, Indigenous, persons with disabilities, minority, and veteran-owned businesses) in our procurement processes by ensuring fair and equitable access for all, and in doing so, sign new contracts with diverse suppliers that help to build their capacity, experience, and ability to scale.

To get there, we first had to establish the foundations of the program, by becoming corporate members of five advocacy organizations that certify companies as “diverse” (including WBE Canada), learning from the experiences of organizations with established programs, and identifying a supplier diversity champion in our Procurement team.

Next, we updated our Supplier Registration Form to identify which of our new suppliers are diverse,  leveraged the events organized by certifying councils to meet with diverse suppliers, and leveraged our corporate memberships to obtain coaching with the development of our program.

Along the way, we learned that we needed time to familiarize ourselves with the service offerings of diverse suppliers and make connections between suppliers and our internal buyers, and to examine our procurement processes to identify and remove potential barriers. Thinking of this endeavour as more of a strategy than a program has helped myself and my team understand this is not something we’re going to finish in one year.

Since announcing our intention to create more opportunities for equity-seeking businesses through our supply chain in 2020, we’ve created a registry of diverse suppliers (existing and new), confirmed an executive champion for the program, and signed a number of new contracts with diverse suppliers.

This year, some of our objectives include updating our Procurement Policy to include requirements related to supplier diversity, organizing a matchmaking event between diverse suppliers and our internal buyers, continuing to build  our database of diverse suppliers, and identifying supplier diversity champions within EDC’s lines of business.

Ensuring our procurement processes foster a higher participation rate among diverse suppliers is a long-term commitment and learning experience. But that shouldn’t scare off any organizations that haven’t yet started work in this space. There are countless supports and partners to help guide us through this, and the sooner you start, the sooner you begin to make incremental change and create impact.

Melanie Travers is the Director of Sourcing and Supplier Management at EDC, responsible for EDC’s procurement and vendor management functions. A Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) with over 21 years’ experience in financial management and management consulting, her areas of expertise are target operating model design and business process improvement.