UW News

February 21, 2008

Business Diversity Program: Making the University more accessible

News and Information

A revamped and reorganized Business Diversity Program is trying to make complex processes at the UW more accessible and understandable to underrepresented businesses in Washington, and also to raise the consciousness of those units purchasing goods and services.

The program recently was relocated within the Office of Strategy Management, a unit of Finance and Facilities. It has a Universitywide steering committee with representatives of units that are responsible for purchasing a major share of the UW’s goods and services. The program is advised by a board composed of high-ranking UW officials, representatives of community groups and vendors who have worked with the UW.

“When I took this position,” says Shaun Spearmon, who manages the program, “one thing became clear. Each school, college and often each department greatly influences decisions when it comes to purchasing goods and services. We have a decentralized procurement process for small dollar purchases, so this office has adopted a decentralized approach to engaging the University in considering minority and women owned businesses (MWBE).”

The program staff consists of Spearmon, who formerly worked with the Business and Economic Development Center in the Foster School of Business, and Lynn Beck, who worked in Purchasing .

Spearmon is frank in stating that one trigger for the change was a sense of dissatisfaction within the MWBE business community. Since the passage of Initiative 200 in 1998, which eliminated mandatory goals for purchasing goods, services and construction projects, the percentage of UW purchases from MWBEs has declined. “People started to ask questions,” he says, which led to the creation of a working group to examine the problem and ultimately to the creation of a new office to address the issue.

Spearmon and Beck will be creating a database of qualified businesses, organized by commodity. “Eventually, we’d like to help develop people’s consciousness of this issue in the same way that many now consider ‘being green’ in their purchases,” he says. “We see our function as a resource to the entire University community. We recognize that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to purchasing. That’s why we’re out visiting people at various levels at all campuses, to see how we can help and to engage everyone in the process of changing how we think about the goods and services we buy.”

Spearmon would like to provide more opportunities for small businesses to reach out to University departments, through avenues other than the Purchasing Department. With many campus customers making small dollar purchases on their own, allowing vendors to establish business relationships with these decision makers is an important step for marketing their business. Workshops have been held for businesses to familiarize them with how the UW purchases goods and services. Spearmon’s unit is also planning additional events which will bring together potential vendors with major campus units that buy those goods and services in significant quantity.

More information about the Business Diversity Program is available <a href=http://www.washington.edu/admin/bdp/index.html>here</a>.