How to score in the United Nations procurement net

I recently attended a 2 day training workshop in New York about how to deal with UN procurement from a supplier perspective. This was organised as part of something called the European Union Procurement Forum, a group of people each representing a member state country trying to help the businesses of Europe sell to the United Nations.

The event is organised every year, as far as I know with the support of the UN but without their financing, instead all the participants have to pay around $800 to attend.

Is that worth it? 135 companies from 21 different countries thought so. A real mixture of businesses, from consultants to printers, translators to freight forwarders, medical devices, construction companies, IT etc.

Did I get value?

To a great extent yes (and that has nothing to do with the very nice food served, or being in one of the most interesting cities in the world). Part of the second day could be forgotten about – I cannot actually remember a thing about the afternoon session.

For the meaty part (and yes, our friends in the US do eat a lot of meat, I was looking forward to eating my greens back in the UK), the first day set the picture of what the UN buys (seems to be mosquito nets mainly): the extent of their procurement (dangerous zones mainly but not only), and how they do it (quite differently from the EU procurement procedures).

What was striking is the number of different agencies the UN is made of. Striking as well is the procurement budget of these different agencies - it runs in billions for most of them and they are considered small when they have a spend of “only” $220M.

Are UN procurers different from EU procurers? All the speakers were procurers or head of the procurement departments at different agencies and you certainly could not fault their professionalism in most of their presentations. They all follow the guiding principles, similar to the EU, of Best Value for Money, Fairness, Transparency and Integrity. Their main differences from EU procurers is that they have to deal more often with crisis procurement and have systems to allow them to be quick, but at the same time very confident that whoever they buy from can actually deliver the job every time. As one presenter said, you cannot have a soldier managing a crisis with an empty stomach and without shelter for too long…

Is the UN open to dealing with small businesses? Absolutely, and a big proportion of the companies there were small outfits. I travelled/met up with small company from Kent, a middle size printing company from Malta which previously won a contract and a middle size freight forwarder from Southampton which won quite a few contracts.

The UN buys a lot in the locality where their mission is taking place and tries to spread their buying for risk prevention as well as a social development exercise. If an international company works with local suppliers, wherever the crisis is, the bid is all the stronger.

Are there products the UN need and where you could make a mint?

Apart from the mosquito nets mentioned before – they have a multi-million dollars programme to distribute them as an effective Malaria control system - the UN needs blood, loads of it. They currently have a supplier in the Netherlands that is good but does not have as much capacity as the UN needs. How do you get into that business I am not sure, but if you have connections with Dracula Ltd you have a great potential buyer to speak with…

If you want to learn about the UN, the next event is in May 2012. Places go very fast once the registration opens in January (not quite as fast as for a Take That concert though)…

Until next time, Toni

Toni Saraiva works in England (but travels a lot) for EISC, who help small firms in particular understand the wonders of EU procurement and how to bid for contracts.

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