Suppliers with adaptable business models will ‘prosper’ in challenging environments says DFID

Gurjit Degun
15 July 2014

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15 July 2014 | Gurjit Degun

The Department for International Development (DFID) has called on its suppliers to make sure they have business models that can respond to difficult working environments.

DFID’s director for West and Southern Africa Susanna Moorehead said that an increasing number of its programmes are in challenging environments, and many countries are getting more fragile.

“Those of you who are able to change your business model to respond to those challenges are going to be able to grow and prosper,” said Moorehead, who was speaking at the DFID second annual supplier conference in London last week.

“There’s almost an inverse of correlation in the number of suppliers we have and the degree of fragility and you will know that we rely heavily on UN agencies and particularly on the other multilaterals. We want to change that but the market is not very well developed and my sense is that we need to work very much together to get this market working.”

She said that there is a “litany of reasons why you would not want to do business in these areas”. Moorehead listed violence, security, unpredictability, poor infrastructure, “logistics are a nightmare, we don’t tend to work through government systems, lack of reliable data”.

Moorehead also talked about difficulties around recruiting the right staff. “As an international community we are fishing in the same pool, everyone is trying to get the same people so we need to think creatively about the right people,” she said.

She explained that suppliers should make sure they have staff who understand the environments they are working in, speak the language, and who are “extremely good at building relationships with people who don’t necessarily want to have a relationship”.

Moorehead added: “I think we sometimes make life difficult for ourselves than we need to, we over design the programmes, we go to too many sectors, we fail to maximise synergy from the programming. One of the lessons we’ve learned the hard way is that we were spread far too thinly in far too many sectors, we had these all singing all dancing programmes that [would be] difficult to deliver in the south of England.

“So we now take a province-focussed [localised] approach to do programmes that are mutually reinforcing. Quite a lot of these are more plain vanilla than development best practice would suggest. You’ve got to start small and build. Undertake pilots, be prepared to stop them if they don’t work. Plan on the basis that things will go badly wrong. I can’t underestimate the importance of active risk management. We’re certainly putting more emphasis on it and I think it’s incumbent on the suppliers to be able to work with us to manage the delivery risks.”

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