UConn Honored for Policies, Programs Ensuring Diversity Among Suppliers

UConn is one of nine institutions nationwide to receive the inaugural Jesse L. Moore 2021 Supplier Diversity Award from INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine

A sunrise over Storrs.

(UConn Photo)

UConn is being honored for its commitment to economic inclusion in ensuring that companies operated by members of underrepresented populations receive adequate access and information to compete for University contracts.

UConn is one of nine institutions nationwide to receive the inaugural Jesse L. Moore 2021 Supplier Diversity Award from INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine, the oldest and only print publication focusing on diversity and inclusion in higher education.

The winners were announced Wednesday, and UConn will be honored along with the others in the magazine’s April issue.

Supplier diversity is critical because it helps ensure that small (SBE) and minority-owned business enterprises (MBEs) have adequate access and information to compete for contracts against larger firms with deeper pockets, established relationships or more years of bidding experience.

UConn has been recognized as a leader in the field by several organizations, exceeding the State of Connecticut’s contracting goals for SBE/MBE construction projects and even outpacing its own higher internal targets.

“As an institution with a wide economic reach in Connecticut, UConn is deeply committed to ensuring that its values of diversity, equity, and inclusion are imbedded in its financial practices,” President Thomas Katsouleas says.

“Small and minority-owned business enterprises bring valuable talent and experience to contracted projects,” he says. “Providing clear and proactive services to help them navigate and participate in UConn’s bidding processes has positive effects for our communities and our state’s economic well-being. The University is proud to be a leader in this area, and appreciative of the latest recognition of its efforts.”

INSIGHT into Diversity started the Jesse L. Moore Supplier Diversity Award this year to honor colleges and universities that proactively support and engage with minority-owned businesses through supplier diversity offices, unique programs, and leading initiatives.

“This award holds even greater meaning for me because of who it was named after. Mr. Moore was one of the first supplier diversity practitioners to take my call over a decade ago, as UConn’s program was beginning to take shape,” says UConn Supply Diversity Program Executive Director Veronica Cook, who has led the University’s program as its since its inception in 2005.

“Despite the fact that he was in the process of moving, he extended his personal time to share his expertise — extensive even back then — and to introduce me to the National Association of Educational Procurement’s Supplier Diversity Institute, which was also in its early stages,” Cook says.

UConn has been an active participant in the planning and steering committees of the NAEP’s SDI ever since, including this year’s virtual week-long Centennial Celebration in March 2021, at which UConn’s Supplier Diversity Program’s accomplishments will be highlighted. In addition, Cook currently serves as co-chair of NAEP’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee.

The UConn program consists of Cook and her assistant Victoria Novak. In conjunction with the Purchasing Department and Capital Projects and Facilities Procurement (CPFP), it is part of University Business Services under the leadership of Interim Associate Vice President and Chief Procurement Officer Gregory Daniels. Those functions are part of the University’s Finance Division led by Scott Jordan, the Executive Vice President for Administration and Chief Financial Officer.

Each year, trillions of dollars are spent on goods and services by institutions of higher education, yet there is little recognition of the contributions colleges and universities are making to support diverse suppliers in their communities and beyond.

Programs such as UConn’s are critical, as they demonstrate that intentional policies are in place at these institutions to make small and minorities businesses (S/MBE’s) feel welcome to compete in fair and transparent solicitation processes.

Ensuring that S/MBEs have contracting opportunities strengthens state and regional economies; helps institutions to contract with a wider variety of companies that better represent the diversity of their area; and can help reduce the wealth gap, experts say.

Under Connecticut state law, at least 25% of a state agency’s construction spending for projects valued at $50,000 or more must go to qualified SBEs and, of that, one-quarter must go to qualified MBEs, equaling 6.25% of the agency’s total construction spending annually for those same over-$50,000 projects.

UConn proactively raised its annual construction goals to 30% for SBEs, including 10 percent of the total construction spending for MBEs – a target that it has consistently exceeded in recent years, including FY2020, despite the impacts of COVID.

Among the many institutions nominated since December 2020 for the inaugural INSIGHT into Diversity Jesse L. Moore 2021 Supplier Diversity Award, UConn is one of nine institutions nationwide to receive the inaugural Award.

“When it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), colleges and universities have traditionally put their resources into recruiting and retaining diverse students and employees — however, there is a third leg of DEI that focuses on supplier diversity,” says Holly Mendelson, co-publisher of INSIGHT Into Diversity.

“The INSIGHT Into Diversity Jesse L. Moore Supplier Diversity Award, named in honor of longtime advocate and economic development pioneer Jesse L. Moore for his leadership in promoting supplier diversity and the success of minority-owned businesses, is our way of ensuring this critical area of DEI also gets recognized for the important role that it plays,” Mendelson says.

For its efforts to date, UConn has also received the Minority Construction Council (MCC) Inaugural Corporate Partnership Award and has been honored twice with the Institution of for Higher Learning Award from the Greater New England Minority Supplier Development Council (GNEMSDC).

In addition to the many resources that UConn provides on its Supplier Diversity Program website, it also conducts outreach events, participates in matchmakers, and hosts educational workshops such as the three-campus, interagency Financial Workshops held prior to the COVID pandemic. The SDP also worked to encourage participation and to help potential bidders understand the process through a highly successful webinar last summer for the Connecticut Procurement Technical Assistance Center (CT PTAC) that has been posted on its site as a resource.

It’s also had positive response to its SMBeConnect, an online connection tool that Cook developed to connect S/MBEs to the buying professionals in UConn’s procurement office who specialize in their particular commodity.

As a result, many of those prospective contractors, vendors, and consultants are also listed on an easily accessible page that the university purchasers and existing contractors can check as they determine the need for certain goods and services.

The program also includes educational tools to help aspiring contractors understand the kinds of opportunities UConn currently has and anticipates putting out to bid, both in construction projects and in procuring goods and services. As a benefit of using the SMBEeConnect tool, prospective contractors are signed up for the purchasing department’s on-line solicitation portal in Husky Buy, to ensure that they are electronically notified of future bidding opportunities pertaining to their commodity.

In addition to those initiatives, the USDP also works internally to ensure the full University community is aware of the initiatives and embraces the goals when making purchasing decisions. This includes the launching of its eLearning course last fall on the topic. To date, the course has been completed by University Business Services staff and more than 600 ProCard holders who are responsible for making University purchasing decisions, whether large or small.

“It is gratifying to receive recognition for the efficacy of the work that we as an institution and as a program are doing in the area of supplier diversity,” Cook says. “As we graciously accept this and any award, we must also accept the responsibility of continuing to evolve.

“To do this successfully, we must continue to partner both legislatively and internally to remove barriers and ensure that we are even more accessible, informative, and inclusive in our procurement processes until we see a consistent increase in the utilization of small and minority-owned business enterprises on UConn contracts,” she says.