A new energy and intentionality to Penn purchasing

The University launched its ‘Fueling Business Growth’ campaign at this year’s Supplier Diversity Forum and Expo, meant to increase support of local, minority-owned businesses.

web page of virtual event
2021 Penn Supplier Diversity Forum & Expo. The event was held virtually.

For several decades, Penn has intentionally worked to increase its supplier diversity spending. That has meant encouraging the leaders within the University and the Health System to do all they can to connect with and support local, minority, LGBT, and women-owned businesses when buying anything—from medical and scientific materials to services like construction, information technology, and catering.

Strides have certainly been made, with Penn increasing its spending with businesses in West and Southwest Philadelphia since 2004 by 125%; with diverse suppliers by 240%; and nearly tripling spending with Black-owned businesses. But there is always more to be done.

“Can we do more? Must we do more? Yes we can, and yes we will,” said President Amy Gutmann during Wednesday’s Supplier Diversity Forum and Expo. “We have a long way to go to close gaps in wealth and opportunity.”

The Forum and Expo, an annual event celebrating Penn’s diverse suppliers, was held online this year due to COVID-19, and drew its biggest crowd yet of hundreds of participants. During the program, Senior Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli announced the launch of the University’s new “Fueling Business Growth” campaign, an initiative that builds on the 35-year-old “Buy West Philadelphia” program that he said “brings Penn’s branding and intentionality into the 21st Century.”

Over the past two years, the University spearheaded focus groups and mindful “listening tours” in the community, said Carnaroli, that led to this campaign and increased engagement and outreach, enhanced tools and reporting, and expanded access to resources, all with the hope of strengthening old—and forming new—relationships with diverse businesses. (A specific highlight includes a Fueling Business Growth website that is home to a new, user-friendly central repository of information for both Penn buyers and local and diverse suppliers—making it easier to search for and form relationships on both ends.)

“This initiative seeks to spur economic development in Philadelphia,” said Carnaroli. “Philadelphia is a minority-majority city, yet the percentage of its businesses that are owned by minorities is small. Boosting commercial activity with these businesses is a social imperative that can increase their financial strength in the local economy, and that comes through strategic leadership.”

Bernard Wright, founder and CEO of BDJ Ventures, a Wharton alumnus who attends the Forum and Expo each year, knows Penn’s impact well. Since becoming a supplier with the University in 2015, he says his company, which creates promotional products, has gained transformative attention.

“Being able to just say that we work with the University of Pennsylvania gives us a level of credibility, and has opened so many doors,” Wright said. “There is a level of confidence that results from that for those prospective clients … it doesn’t necessarily seal the deal, but it certainly helps.”

Slide of virtual event with presenter at top right corner
Senior Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli presenting the launch of the University’s new “Fueling Business Growth” campaign, an initiative that builds on the 35-year-old “Buy West Philadelphia” program.

The campaign, said Joann Mitchell, Penn’s chief diversity officer and senior vice president for institutional affairs, is “an extension and an expansion” of efforts to advance the Penn Compact’s strategic vision of inclusion, innovation, and impact. Proud of the work that has been done thus far, Glenn Bryan, assistant vice president of community relations in the Office of Government and Community Affairs, said the campaign is “taking what Penn has done to another level of exposure and possibility.”

Both Mitchell and Bryan agree that the campaign will help demonstrate the importance of this type of engagement is for other universities, colleges, and businesses in the region—hopefully allowing Penn to continue to lead by example.

“We are fueling progress that will propel the University, but also will foster success for our business partners,” said Mitchell. “Our successes are intertwined.”

In addition to the new campaign launch, at the event, Chief Procurement Officer Mark Mills announced the inaugural honorees of the Penn Supplier Diversity and Economic Inclusion Impact Awards, which went to recipients including a team from the Office of the University Architect in Facilities and Real Estate Services (FRES)—Ke Feng, Mark Kocent, Eva Lew, and Jackie Schlindwein—and Weitzman School of Design’s Nadine Beauharnois. Both the team from FRES and Beauharnois were specifically recognized, Mills said, for cultivating intentional and meaningful relationships this past year with local, diverse suppliers.

Another highlight for many, the Forum was headlined by Wharton Dean Erika H. James in conversation with ActOne Founder and CEO Janice Bryant Howroyd. The expert duo engaged in a conversation on their research, work, and advocacy related to diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace.

slide of two speakers of the virtual event
Wharton School Dean Erika H. James in conversation with ActOne Founder and CEO Janice Bryant Howroyd.

“Supplier diversity illustrates that an organization not only acknowledges, but is prepared to act regarding the fact that there are businesses owned by groups that have been historically left out of the supply chain,” said James. “These groups include minorities, women, veterans’ services, disabled veterans, LGBTQ individuals, and people with disabilities utilizing diverse suppliers. Opportunities bring innovation, perspective, and new talent, and provides jobs and training across communities.”

The two discussed how this is key to the advancement of economic growth at three scales. One, the business itself and what it provides. Second, the individuals and families connected to that business and how it leads to employment and stability. And third, the communities where these families reside and the positive impact they have on society.

“To be able to hear from both Dean James and Ms. Howroyd, who leads an incredibly successful business, in conversation is one of the reasons I love working at Penn so much,” said Marie Witt, vice president of Penn’s Business Services Division. “We have so many experts in their fields willing to speak here, and it’s an opportunity to gain a unique perspective, which always brings value. A lot of us become siloed in the way we think or practice, and hearing from people from all different backgrounds brings a fresh, important approach to the table.”

The event concluded with an online expo, lasting two hours, which highlighted dozens of diverse businesses.

The Expo Hall featured more than 30 diverse suppliers, representatives from Facilities and Real Estate Services and organizations who are part of the University’s Economic Inclusion Network. Participants could virtually enter, explore and network among all of the exhibitors and learn more about doing business with Penn.

Director of communications and member relations at the Asian American Chamber of Commerce Aishika Jennela attended the virtual expo.

“What we found is that a lot of times these businesses don't have access to procurement services or getting opportunities that some other businesses might have,” she said. “So we’re really focused on hopefully connecting them with Penn procurement services, and helping them grow for themselves.”

Looking ahead, Carnaroli said he hopes to see sustained progress in Penn’s diverse supplier activity.

“To me, in five years, if we were able to see our business with diverse suppliers double, that would be fantastic,” he said, chatting just before the Forum. “It will be hard, but hard things take energy, effort, and focus, so that’s what we’re going to do.”

For more information on Penn’s “Fueling Business Growth” campaign, visit Penn Procurement Services.