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Tips from the Experts: How to Make Afghan First Work

As I mentioned in my last post, the Afghan First Outreach Event gave Afghan suppliers a chance to speak to USAID representatives about the obstacles they face in doing business with international buyers. Similarly, USAID pointed out the common deficiencies in proposals submitted by local suppliers as well as their common misconceptions about the USAID contracting process.

We know that local suppliers are eager to do business with international buyers, and that buyers increasingly want to do business with Afghan vendors (thanks Afghan First!). So that everyone can better understand the operating environment and expectations, I’ve compiled a handy tip sheet for buyers and suppliers that includes the most common suggestions and criticism that we hear.

Buyers, to get the most out of your local procurement experience,

  • Verify the companies. Ensure that they have a valid business license (the most common are AISA and the Ministry of Commerce). These businesses will be paying taxes and you’ll be able to ensure that the company is majority Afghan-owned. Hint: All PDT-registered companies have been verified as such.
  • Post/distribute tenders where Afghan companies can access them. This includes public websites such as PDT’s Tender Directory. Not only does this fulfill audit demands for transparency but it will encourage more competition among supplies in quality and pricing.
  • Explain and Simplify the Requirement. Phrase the solicitation in ‘plain English’ and make a Dari/Pashto translation available if possible. Avoid technical jargon that may be unfamiliar to a non-native speaker.
  • Communicate Directly with Vendors. Face-to-face interactions foster a better working relationship, and vastly improve the vendor’s understanding of your expectations. You will also gain a better understanding of the local marketplace.
  • Provide Feedback on Proposals. This is the first thing that vendors mention when talking to buyers. They cannot improve their bids if they don’t know what they did wrong. When notifying the vendors that their bids were unsuccessful, indicate what the common deficiencies were in the unsuccessful proposals. If you can, debrief the vendors in person.

Suppliers, to increase your chances of doing business with international buyers,

  • If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. It may be that another company was able to provide a more competitive price, or a better deadline, but that does not mean you didn’t have a good bid.
  • Bid on the small contracts. If you perform well on a contract, it establishes past performance with a buyer, no matter how small the contract amount. Past performance will help you win larger contracts in the future.
  • Read the Terms and Conditions of a contract before you sign. Ensure you are clear on all of the requirements including delivery date, ‘no substitutions’ clauses and payment terms.
  • Be sure that you deliver the goods/services on time. This is very important to buyers, who have deadlines themselves to get their work done.
  • Do not substitute products. If the buyer expects one thing and another is delivered, you have not met the terms and conditions of the contract, which will harm your chances for future contracts.
  • Specialize in one thing, do not try and do everything. This will dilute the quality of your work, and buyers are looking for experts, not vendors with a little knowledge of a lot of things. Buyers can tell if you are not familiar with the good or service you are contracted to provide, and they will assume that you do not understand what their needs are.

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