14 December 2008

So What Exactly Do You Do Again?

I christen new tractors with champagne. Well, not personally, but my team does.

I work for an NGO called Centro de Apoio Epresarial, known in the marketplace locally as CAE. In short we’re a business support center trying to help small and medium sized Angolan companies get plugged into the supply chain infrastructure of the petroleum industry. The basic philosophy is that small business is really what drives new job growth in any economy, and with 70% of the country living below the poverty line, more jobs are definitely needed.

For those that aren’t aware, Angola is either the #1 or #2 oil producer in Africa and its potential is not yet fully explored. In a way the country is still getting back on its feet after a 27-year-long civil war ended only in 2002. The pace of infrastructure construction is brisk, with new highways, airports, bridges, ports, railroads, soccer stadiums, hotels, condos, etc. going up like a real-life version of the computer game Sim City. This situation not only describes Luanda, the capital, but many regional cities as well.

But enough about that – back to what I’m doing here. Our sponsors are a consortium of oil companies (BP, Esso, Chevron, Total, and the national oil company, Sonangol). We work with them on one side to understand their procurement processes and to identify opportunities to increase local content. Not only is it much cheaper to source locally (Angola’s ports are clogged and many supplies are sent via plane, which only adds to the cost), but it’s just good business to support the local community. The challenge is finding local suppliers that meet international safety and qualiity standards, and that’s where CAE comes in.

We work with Angolan SMEs (small and medium enterprises) to professionalize their operations. Our certification process verifies that these companies have transparent accounting procedures, effective human resources practices, consistent financial reporting, and meet high health and safety requirements. All of our work is pro bono and takes the form of consulting engagements, technical assistance, and training events.

At the moment I’m working in a regional office in Benguela, which is one of the main agricultural areas of the country (an hour’s flight south of the capital). The main crops grown locally are bananas, corn, tomatoes, tobacco, and coffee. I could go on about the agricultural value chain and how we try to link these agribusinesses into the supply chain of the local petroleum industry, but I think you get the point.

That brings me to the tractor. One of our agribiz clients called on a Friday afternoon to say he was having a dedication ceremony for a new machine. He was a banana farmer, but the tractor will allow him to plant more diversified crops and increase his productivity. We piled into one 4x4 and headed out to the field to take part in the festivities. I was personally more excited about the large mango tree filled with ripe fruit, but I wasn’t complaining about the unexpected champagne toast either. So ended another day in Angola…

No comments: