Training Haitian Companies to Bid When Opportunity Knocks
It seems simple enough: international organizations need to buy goods and services, and Haitian businesses want to sell them. More than a thousand NGOs are working in Haiti, and with global commitments of assistance to its reconstruction totaling nearly $10 billion, business opportunities would seem ripe for the picking.
Yet, when it comes to international procurement, a competitive tender and bidding process has long since replaced handshake deals that for years were business as usual in countries like Haiti. And while contract award procedures may be transparent, they pose formidable challenges to local entrepreneurs who often don’t know the rules of the game and lack the skills required to negotiate the complexities of an international tender. For their part, buyers often don’t understand the local market and lack the time to teach suppliers the nuances of the bidding process.
Into this void steps Peace Dividend Marketplace Haiti (Marketplace Haiti) in the figure of Fransonnette Prussien. She teaches Haitian suppliers how to bid on projects tendered by international organizations and the Haitian government.
Marketplace Haiti is one of the few nongovernmental organizations working in Haiti that offers such comprehensive training. In just 10 months Marketplace Haiti has trained the owners of more than 500 Haitian businesses. PDM-H also hosts joint conferences attended by buyers and suppliers.
Results Take Time
Sometimes the results are swift and spectacular—for example, a pharmaceutical and medical supply company recently reported that after the training it won contracts from several NGOs. Moften than not, however, the learning curve takes longer, especially since many participating business are relatively small and face hurdles like having to submit a bid in English, a language they don’t speak. “And then,” says Prussien, “there are others who are just in the process of formalizing their businesses and establishing the processes of accountability that will enable them to bid in the future.”
How the Training Works
Working in tandem with her assistant Savien Doblas, Prussien first explains the overall tender process, identifies the types of opportunities available, and examines the specifics of submitting a bid to furnish goods, execute works, or deliver services.
Prussien guides the participants through the contracting cycle from the perspective of both the buyer and the seller. She urges business owners to clearly identify and understand the buyer’s specific needs.
“You have to honestly ask yourself, ‘What am I really capable of providing and what can I not provide?” Prussien tells participants. “If it’s a project to provide hydraulic pumps, maybe you can buy and install them, but do you have the resources to maintain them? If you don’t, it doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t bid, you might just need to look for a subcontractor.”
In Haiti, the most important languages for business have typically been French, Creole, and English. But for bids and tenders, yet another language is required—“contract speak.” The information packet for Haitian business owners who attend PDM training includes a glossary of procurement terms. Page by page and sometimes word by word, Prussien reviews actual RFQs, ITBs, and RFPs (oh, the joys of Contract Speak) from the Submission Letter to the Terms of Reference.
The business owners then participate in an exercise in which they must reply to mock tenders typical of those currently awarded by NGOs working in Haiti: one for drilling wells, another for the purchase of 200 computers, and a third for construction of schools. The session closes with a review of the point system used by the supplier and how it might have been applied in each of the three cases.
The sessions are peppered with a back-and-forth between the trainers and the business owners, who don’t hesitate to voice their frustrations about everything from lack of access to credit to late payments by NGOs and a general dearth of communication. “What I hear time and again after the training,” explains Prussien, “is ‘this is the first time I’ve ever gotten this information, I’ve wanted to bid for a long time but I was afraid because I didn’t know where to start.’”
Sometimes Prussien can only commiserate, but other times she provides specific counsel. “These entrepreneurs are not new to the marketplace, they are experienced business people,” she explains. “So this can lead to some dynamic conversations. ‘You deal with the NGOs all the time,’ they ask me, ‘so what have you seen?’”
Moving forward, Peace Dividend Marketplace Haiti is looking to expand the reach and effectiveness of its services for entrepreneurs by providing training by sector or by company size. Prussien acknowledges that the organization’s crusade to bring together buyers and suppliers in Haiti has a long way to go, but she’s hopeful about the desire of Haitian companies to forge ahead and the interest expressed by NGOs in buying local.
“The entrepreneurs really want to work with the NGOs to access these financial opportunities, and they are willing to adapt the management of their businesses to the principles involved in working internationally,” she concludes. “Even though Haitian firms might not always have the capital or the technical capacity, the situation can improve to the extent that they have the information they need and the desire to continue.
“So while it can be difficult to connect them,” she adds,” it’s important to remember that the suppliers need the NGOs and the NGOs need the suppliers.” We just have to make sure they know each others’ language.