How I mentored procurement professionals worldwide using WhatsApp

Procurement and supply chain is recognised as a key driver in any organisation. Going beyond spend management and cost reductions, CPOs are taking roles as organisation decision makers and on boards.

Having said that, there are developing countries especially in Africa, where procurement and supply chain are still struggling to make a mark. This is because the profession has not been viewed as a strategic position, usually viewed as a back office support function, implemented by non-professionals.

Consequently procurement and supply chain has received little effort to ensure policies, values and the institutional framework governing the procurement and supply chain systems were maintained in a manner that would ensure efficiency, develop the economy, drive best value visibility and growth of professionalism.

While there is often ignorance of what it means to become a “professional”, lack of infrastructure, troubled state governance and high cost of education has often left people demotivated. There is a strong need to connect with them, expose them to global practice, mentor them to improve their self-esteem and self-recognition and further to educate, enlighten, elevate, enable and empower them.

Working more efficiently and effective is the easy part, but making people work passionately is a greater challenge. Raising self-esteem and confidence is the key.

I have been using the mobile messaging service WhatsApp to mentor procurement professionals across the world. To cut across mindset, cultures and borders to lesser known geographies, the technology has been a key enabler to reach to multiple groups across nations, with each group consisting of over 90 members. WhatsApp has helped:

• Develop confidence to raise thoughts, questions, participate and speak out (more so in English)
• Mentor them to match their desires of today with their needs of tomorrow and aligning these to their potential studies, work and future in procurement and supply chain
• Exposing them to the simple dos and don’ts of working life, enabling them to think and act global
• Help them choose their educational courses, motivate them to continue their studies, sharpen their knowledge, skills and competencies to tackle issues in life and at work
• Guide them to behavioral science – being in public, meeting people, networking, coming together professionally besides getting connected to larger global CIPS communities
• Share interview tips, role plays, panel discussions, simple economic indicators of world to read and get habitual, doable best practices and evolving a problem using mind mapping skills to enable them reposition themselves at their work
• Initiating discussions of emerging issues/trends on procurement and supply chain, as well as world economics and market trends affecting supply chains worldwide

During the past year, multiple networking events have been initiated in countries in south east Asia and Africa, including Kenya and Ghana. The first of these networking events that was initiated as an opportunity for members from different WhatsApp groups to meet face-to-face and have a full day session attracting more than 350 members. Subsequently, periodic network events and get-togethers have been organised, leading to team working, team building and leadership where members are now empowered to expand the groups regionally within and around their geographies reaching to larger numbers.

It isn't all just hard work. Life is often harder due to their external circumstances beyond their control. Often the discussions have covered the future of youth, professionalism, improved government systems, greater transparency, and job opportunities.

There is a need for strong consisted commitment to support the African groups in particular by encouraging them to be involved in CIPS networking events and conferences, getting leaders to present or visit these regions and the corporations to speak to them on ground in person and expose them to global practices, and possibly offer internships as well as career tips.

Hariharan Laxminarayan is senior associate - purchasing, general materials at Emirates Global Aluminium and the 2015 CIPS Middle East Procurement and Supply Chain Management Professional of the Year

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