When I was 7 years old, public procurement did not occur to me as a future career. And yet here I am, having dedicated the past 25 years helping City Halls connect to new ideas, vendors and solutions. What led this 7-year-old Superman into the world of public procurement? When I first began working with cities I kept stumbling over procurement as a barrier to meaningful change. City employees often told me “Procurement is too complicated.” That might be so, but with municipal procurement making up 10% of our economies, I also felt that it was too big to fail.
As I started digging into city procurement, I could not actually find any rules or laws that would stop us from innovating or making things easier. Instead, I found that people and organizations ‘had their ways’, practices that were passed on from one professional to another. And all too often this meant that we ended up buying the same products and services from a talent pool that had aged.
It is not a coincidence that less than 1% of businesses take the step to register as city vendors. We pay a high price for this: delays, inflated costs and a situation in which more than 90% of city services are more than 10 years behind the proven best practice.
By founding Citymart, I wanted to open the doors to meaningful participation and innovation in a scalable way. We have succeeded, one transaction at a time, in over 130 cities including New York City, Long Beach (CA), San Francisco, Norfolk, Dublin, Detroit, Tulsa, and Philadelphia. Our procurements have delivered better products, services, and concessions for healthcare, waste, social inclusion, urban lighting, transit, public space, and much more. They also opened a world of opportunity for the best talent and businesses to shine and grow.
- Cities got 24 instead of 2.5 proposals to their bid opportunities
- These additional proposals brought new ideas, helping cities literally discover 30,000 new solutions to deliver better services
- 46% of winning vendors had not previously worked with the city before
- 89% of contracts went to small, diverse, and creative businesses
- 90% of bidders had never worked with government before
- 42% of bids come from minority and women-owned business
- Across all categories cities achieved between 30%-80% in cost savings
But I am most excited that all these outcomes also changed people’s hearts and their imagination of what public procurement can be. Today, public officials know that it is better to design procurements around outcomes instead of prescriptive specifications. The UK is the first country to achieve innovation in 1% of all procurements. And the positive experience for thousands of diverse vendors helped them see procurement not as a ‘stitched up charade’, but an actual path to growth and success.
We still have a long way to go and the time is right. Today, we have know what is right, and have shown what can be done in cities big and small, rich or poor. You can help bring this to scale not just from inside government, but also as a resident, a business or through your work in philanthropy or media. Together we can help more cities turn every public procurement into an opportunity. An opportunity to innovate, to save, to create local growth, and to deliver better results for our communities.
If you are interested to get involved, please let me know.