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UNICEF Training: Breaking Down Barriers, Cementing Trust & Building Relationships

Working across Liberia with local suppliers isn’t just a challenge in service delivery. Many barriers stand in the way of market links between buyers and suppliers. Despite low capacity of local suppliers, businesses are making a turn-around because of numerous capacity building initiatives in the country. One such initiative is a collaboration between the UNICEF Liberia Office and USAID Sustainable Marketplace Initiative Liberia (SMI-L) to assist UNICEF’s pre-qualified vendors to understand how to successfully bid on UNICEF tenders to win contracts. The process can be frustrating, especially after a long period of unsuccessful bidding. At the opening of the training, SMI-L Training Manager, Kula Thompson-Williams, cautioned participants; “creating linkages helps with much needed market opportunities, but it takes trust to build and sustain said opportunity now and far into the future.”

After verifying all pre-qualified UNICEF vendors, SMI-L organized two days of general procurement and financial management training and one day of specialized training on UNICEF’s procurement procedures and practices. Seventeen business owners and managers participated. “This training allowed me for the first time to meet all potential suppliers face-to-face in one room,” said UNICEF Procurement Manager Mohindra Kumar. “This is the first [training] of its kind since UNICEF began operations in Liberia.”

UNICEF is currently in 150 countries around the world including Liberia. Kumar told the participants that UNICEF in Liberia buys up to $1.5 million locally. UNICEF’s biggest procurement needs include materials like vaccines, pharmaceuticals, food, bed nets, medical supplies, construction materials, and water and sanitation needs. UNICEF’s procurement practice includes a secret bidding process that takes between three to ten days.

UNICEF’s partnership with SMI-L to train local suppliers demonstrates the organization’s willingness to widen its supplier’s network. A market research exercise was carried out before pre-qualifying vendors selected for the training. Kumar said that the training enabled him to carry out an annual update of his vendors list, which will help him keep track of all their suppliers. “I thank Building Markets for not only providing training but building trust between UNICEF and local suppliers in Liberia,” Kumar said.

According to the 17 participating vendors, the training would pave the way for their businesses to successfully engage UNICEF. Many participants said they were leaving the training hopeful of winning contracts and putting into place all they have learned over the three days.

Miss Siatta Gardiner, Founder and CEO of Elohim Group Of Companies Inc. and picture left, suggested that “given the low level of capacity facing Liberian businesses, which includes training and access to finance, the Government and partners need to do more to help local businesses. They should not just offer business training but also mentoring, monitoring and the provision of technical support to local business.”

The SMI-L is made possible by USAID: through the American people.

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