WADE: When Buying Social Creates More Skilled Jobs in WA for People With Disabilities

Western Australian Disability Enterprises (WADEs) could be the future of procurement and buying social for many large organisations around Western Australia.

A ‘Buy Social’ policy encourages businesses and government to procure goods and services that also produce a social benefit. This policy is the backbone of WADEs, which employs over 2,000 workers with disabilities across Western Australia.

West Australian Disabilities Enterprises (WADE) are seven not-for-profit organisations which run as commercial businesses including environmental management, light manufacturing assembly, fabrication, printing, cleaning, and a variety of other vital services.

Says John Knowles, Chair of WADE: “I suppose how we set up our local system to do the same nationally is the same challenge our forefathers had when they tried to get a Federation together!

“One of the issues in procurement is that procurement officers are trained for whole generations to go to tender and to get the best value for money. With those laws relaxed in 2009, we needed to get really political early on. The government put huge one-off investment into social innovation brands, so we used our contacts to go straight to the top to get as much push as we could from agencies.”

Initially set up to leverage off a state government concession, WADE is now enabled to act directly with government agencies, and is invited into partial and full tenders. In the increasingly competitive social enterprise and procurement area, this engagement and support from the WA Department of Finance has been crucial to WADE’s success.

In 2013, WADE was able to work with the Department of Finance to create a brand new government social procurement role. Supported by the Minister for Finance at the time the role promotes procurement within government policy. It is now a key driver in propelling the Buy Social policy not only within government circles but also to local government and beyond.

An important step in engaging this government support was for WADE to develop a solid value proposition to explain why buying social was beneficial to larger organisations. “Another one of our core values is that we’re only as good as our weakest link – so we’re all committed in putting our best foot forward,” says John. “We don’t want anyone doing a shoddy job, because word-of-mouth in government circles would kill us. So we always do excellent work and give excellent value for money as well.”

Three years in operation later, community benefits are now well established. “In a $100k contract, for example, it creates two or three extra jobs of better quality for people with disabilities,” says John. “It’s just little steps, but if that’s repeated everywhere, people get great value for money from us, and WADE’s organisations get stronger as a result.”

He notes that in the not-so-recent past, work for the disabled has been seen as repetitive and monotonous. “One of our key targets has been not only to create new jobs for people with disabilities, but to create higher value and varied jobs.” During one recent contract for BreastScreen WA’s mailout, WADE ensured that their staff received the best training opportunities – all for the benefit of their clients.

“Instead of 60 people stuffing envelopes, we bought the technology and employed a couple of people with disabilities to control the whole process. They could program the machines and meet the customer’s demands, which is normally harder to do with a high labour component.”

In only three years WADE has already hit its first target: to pick up over $20 million worth of state government contracts. And talks are underway to amend regulations in the Local Government Act WA to allow the government to procure WADE’s services.

“Now that we’ve got a success story, we can promote to local government. We plan to repeat that success story with local government and the private sector, then ultimately the Commonwealth government.”

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