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The Afghan First Outreach Event – Not Your Typical Meet and Greet

We here at Peace Dividend Trust are ardent Afghan First supporters. Connecting buyers with Afghan suppliers and facilitating contracts between the two is our bread and butter. So you can imagine our delight when USAID approached us because they wanted their different offices to meet not one but more than one hundred Afghan suppliers.

In support of Afghan First, USAID wanted to meet local vendors from across the country to let them know what projects they were running, and the contracting opportunities that were available. PDT helped USAID achieve their goal by supporting an Afghan First Outreach Event, held yesterday at the Intercontinental Hotel.

As a newly minted member of the Afghan team, this is the first event I’ve attended and I was impressed. Eight USAID offices gave short presentations about their projects and then opened the floor up to Q&A from the crowd of about 125 Afghan-owned businesses from across the region. USAID reps were extremely receptive to meeting these businesses, and probably picked up 100 business cards apiece.

The participants took full advantage of having the ear of the USAID reps, asking questions pertinent to their operations. For example:

An Afghan business owner during a Q&A session

Q: I’m a new construction company but I have a solid background in architecture. However, it’s difficult to get USAID contracts without past performance. Do you have any suggestions to improve my chances?

A: Yes, USAID has contract provisions that encourage new company participation. In addition, you can partner with an existing firm. We don’t expect Afghan firms to have experience in international building standards, for example, but it can be learnt through partnering and training.

Participants took the opportunity to let USAID know some of the obstacles they face in doing business with them, and suggested improvements. As one participant said, the conference is “a great idea to get everyone together to express their ideas and suggestions”.

For its part, USAID gave businesses tips on how they can improve their chances of doing business. Some tips included not dismissing an opportunity for being “too small”, understanding the customer’s needs and carefully reading the terms and conditions of the contract before signing.

PDT’s Country Director Mike Capstick summed up the event when he said that a lot of information was being passed in both directions. The Afghan First Outreach event was all about creating jobs and opportunities for Afghan businesses, and PDT makes that bridge for Afghan businesses and members of the international community such as USAID.

I’m hopeful that PDT can indeed help USAID and other international buyers have a positive impact on the international community through events such as these. In fact, I am going to spread the lessons communicated at the event beyond its participants. Taking a leaf out of my colleague Tom’s book, I’m going to make this a multi-part blog. Stay tuned for separate entries on buyer’s contracting tips for suppliers, and some of the suppliers’ ideas and suggestions for international buyers!

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