Women, youth and persons living with disabilities are encouraged to apply.”
This is probably the most misused statement is procurement and supply chain processes. It was coined by bureaucrats seeking to increase the number of women, youth and people living with disabilities that do business with government.
For most public and private entities, seeming like the procurement processes are blind to any bias is the current badge of honour. Labeling products and services as for women, youth and differently abled people gives big companies the bragging rights.
One of the stumbling blocks is the demand for experience; the practice is that before a company is given a contract in a certain area, they must demonstrate they have done similar works of similar amounts in the particular area.
Companies will claim to understand the challenges faced by certain marginalised groups, whip the emotions of these groups, get applications for tenders, only to decline, citing lack of experience.
If the groups had experience, they probably would be busy competing with the rest and elbowing each other to big tenders. The lack of experience is why we find ourselves in this disadvantaged lane in the first place.
Public and private entities with big contracts decline to award disadvantaged groups citing the lack of experience and the risks involved. Other companies outright say they are looking for “plug and play” companies and they have no time to train people.
The question then becomes: if you have no patience to offer experience to the disadvantaged, who do you expect to give this experience? If you are not ready to deal with inexperienced suppliers, why have the policies targeting disadvantaged groups?
Yes, the recognition that there is a need to make more effort to include more disadvantaged groups in tenders is great, and has benefited many companies, but more cross function initiatives are required, especially in areas where women have traditionally been excluded.
For instance, women are still excluded from big contracts in technology, energy, oil and gas sectors because of lack of experience.
Under the Public Procurement and Disposal Preference and Reservations Amendment Regulations of 2013, government entities at national and county level are supposed to award 30 percent of contracts to women, youth and people living with disabilities, commonly known as special interest groups. The Access to Government Procurement Opportunities (Agpo) initiative, was calculated to foster economic growth, inclusion and eventually reduce poverty.
Research by Hivos, an NGO, found that 54 percent of Agpo registered firms are owned by youth, 41.1 percent by women, while only 4.9 percent are owned by persons with disabilities. Hivos also found that out of the possible 2,232 tenders, only 172 were awarded to Agpo registered firms, a mere 7.71 percent.
The move on reducing inequalities is good, but organisations need to move a step further and be patient and willing to accept companies with no experience, because they will be the champions of the programme.
The writer is CEO, Fireside Group.