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Australia is blessed with an incredible pool of talent and experience, across a broad range of industries, and it is this expertise that could provide significant and sustainable benefits into the communities where a development initiative is targeted.
The challenge for many firms and individuals wishing to participate in development activities is in understanding the intricacies of the process to secure involvement. Activities through agencies such as the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, are usually let through a public, competitive tendering process. Adding to this challenge is the fact that in almost all cases, the process is different for each agency.
Myth – that the development industry is different.
Well of course it is, as are all industries – different clients, different products, different channels to market, different cultures, different environments, different risks etc.
What makes it the same is the need to ensure client needs are met, if not exceeded, and that products and services are as desired/needed, not imposed.
So how do you get involved? Is it luck? It is skill? Is it people, products or services?
All and more I am sure.
A key step often required is the need to demonstrate experience, understanding, value, sustainability of strategies etc to those assessing a tender.
Reality Check – Successful tenders must be compliant to the requirements of the request, must be price competitive, and need to find the balance between the technical requirements of the response and the selling nature of the process.
One of the most important aspects of development initiatives is their ability to produce sustainable outcomes into the communities within which the activities take place. Consequently, learning from past activities assists to shape the style of future initiatives. For firms or individuals seeking participation, understanding how such learning could modify development approaches is a critical step in determining the type and level of involvement to target.
Fact – learning from past activities continues to shape future interventions.
The Development Market Today
The following points are some key observations about the directions [approaches] being taken in the provision of development assistance. These directions have the potential to impact on any strategy organisations and individuals might adopt to enter, maintain, or increase their involvement:
Funds are being diverted from government aid agencies to other government departments for sector-specific programs
There is a continuing trend to devolve more decision making to the offshore post of the donor country, away from the ‘central’ headquarters
An increase in donor co-ordination and collaboration where, for example, the USA [through USAID] and Australia [through AusAID] might align program approaches to avoid duplication and other associated impediments, into a sector-wide approach
A trend seeing more assistance being aligned to foreign policy where, for example, security and regional stability could influence aid disbursement
Bilateral donors are opening their markets, allowing for individuals and organisations to compete for once closed opportunities
There is an increasing trend for a move to larger activities, such as sector-wide approaches, as opposed to specific project interventions
Scale and global reach is likely to be an important criteria in winning and managing major programs
Relationships and networks in country with donor representatives, recipient governments, local organisations and development professionals are becoming increasingly important.
Opportunities for involvement exist across a whole spectrum of activities, from short-term review/assessment activities in Australia, to short-term offshore assignments for individuals or teams, to long-term offshore assignments for individuals or teams, to overall project management which might include technical inputs as well as sub-contracting of activities.
Organisations such as The Development Executive Group (http://www.developmentex.com) are a valuable resource for individuals and firms to identify opportunities, individuals and potential partners. This Group provides a range of free information and support services to individuals and companies, including project information updates, a weekly development newsletter and employment opportunities in the development sector.
An immediate key success factor is the consideration of which level of involvement for a particular opportunity is likely to deliver the best result with the minimum of risk – for the organisation, the client, the stakeholders and the recipients of support.
Many of the larger activities, such as programs, facilities and sector-wide approaches, often have sub-components that will be let out – meaning the overall project managing firm could be ineligible to perform the services within a sub-component. The key principles to securing sub-component involvement is often identical to that required to secure the overall project, as there will be a call for tender using the same or very similar process to that used by the funding agency.
Consequently, all levels of involvement in the development arena are likely at some point to require interested organisations/individuals to participate in a competitive tendering round. This is often the case regardless of the size of the resultant budget.
Reality Check – Tendering efficiency and effectiveness remains critical.
Tendering skills alone, while critical, are not the sole success factor – in fact tendering well in the absence of other key activities/initiatives may prove insufficient. Key considerations for success, in addition to compiling a winning tender include:
Having the winning product – the team, the approach, the methodology, and the response to the requirements of a tender
Ensuring advance positioning – research, preparation, resources
Maintaining adequate promotion – often the key here is relationships, and certainly past achievements
Being in the right place – knowing the clients and stakeholders and having an international presence
Offering the right price – must be competitive and offering value for money.
The tender response is often the most challenging aspect (apart from implementation of course), addressed by ensuring appropriate preparation and analysis is conducted in advance. The tendering timeframe usually falls within a 4 – 8 week period and generally responses would be required to address key criteria including the team, approach and methodology, management, and price.
Reality Check – Preparation must commence prior to the public call for tender if a realistic chance of success is to be expected.
These thoughts are by no means exhaustive, though they do cover some core principles relevant to successful business development and tendering approaches.