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When a Simple SMS Leads to a Big Contract

Ruth Coker Collins is changing the civil engineering landscape in Liberia. After the civil war ended in 2003, a US Embassy scholarship allowed her to study civil engineering at Liberian university Stella Maris Polytechnic. She was part of a small handful of women in her graduating class. Eager to open up the engineering field to more women, she founded the Liberia Society of Women Engineers, which provides female students scholarships to study engineering.

After constructing roads and buildings for the UN, she began to pursue her entrepreneurial aspirations. “I always dreamt that I would start a construction company that’s 100% women operated,” she said.

In 2012 she did just that by founding Tabitha Renaissance Engineering and Design Inc. The company uses  Building Markets’ Tender Distribution Service (TDS) to identify tender opportunities. “Building Markets is the key to my business,” she said. “I don’t have the best resources to search for tenders. I’ve never submitted a bid that I didn’t find out about from Building Markets.”

Through TDS, Building Markets collects tenders from all types of buyers and disseminates them to local suppliers based on sector and location via SMS, email and on the Building Markets website. Tabitha submitted bids on about nine tenders she found through TDS.

In late 2013, Tabitha won a bid with Liberia Agency for Community Empowerment (LACE) worth $74,000 to build a police outpost in Nimba County. The project required Tabitha to hire 26 full-time workers and 20 part-time workers, of which 17 were females. The contract was for six months, but Tabitha completed it in just four.

Ruth credits the speedy completion to her strong project management skills. During the project, she came up with innovative solutions to overcome transportation issues, implemented a field monitoring team to keep workers working and coordinated with traditional leaders in Nimba to ensure that construction activities didn’t encroach on village land. When Tabitha’s sand mining in a river upset local chiefs, Ruth reached a compromise with the leaders over the river’s use.

The LACE contract enabled Tabitha to purchase construction equipment and provide trainings to her permanent staff, including administrative and engineering trainings. In addition to the profits, Ruth says completing the contract 60 days before the deadline will help her win future contracts. She can prove Tabitha combines quality and efficiency.

Each week, Ruth looks through the tender alerts she receives via SMS from Building Markets. But she’s also chasing after opportunities on her own. She currently has her mind set on a contract with the Liberian Ministry of Finance. “With Tabitha’s credentials, I can stand before the Government of Liberia and can ask for a contract because I know I can do it.”

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