Africans can do business with the UN.


Christian Saunders is the United Nations Assistance Secretary-General in the Office of Supply Chain Management, providing institutional support for UN field offices, including peacekeeping missions in Africa. As he spearheads internal reforms to improve supply chain efficiency, Mr. Saunders would like to see more African companies do business with the UN whose procurement objectives are valued at billions of dollars. What must businesses in Africa do to win tenders from the UN? Are there opportunities for African women entrepreneurs? In this interview with Africa Renewal's Kingsley Ighobor, Mr. Saunders answers these questions and shares his optimism for Africa's socioeconomic future. These are excerpts.

Africa Renewal: Globally, the UN has been reforming its supply chain management. How is this expected to foster efficiency, particularly in field missions, many of which are in Africa?

Christian Saunders: When Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was elected to lead the UN, he soon realised that the organisation needed to modernise, reduce its bureaucracy, decentralise authority, and change its culture to focus on 'results and people rather than bureaucracy and process,' including its supply chain, to make it more agile and responsive. He also saw the need to give people working in the field, particularly in peacekeeping operations, better support to successfully carry out their mandates. These reforms would promote efficiencies throughout the institution.

So what impact has been made so far?

The Secretary-General's management reforms and the new supply chain organisation came into being on the first of January this year, so we're still in the early days of these reforms. As part of the new Office of Supply Chain Management, we merged procurement and logistics-previously in separate departments-into an integrated supply chain under the Department of Operational Support. And now, as a cohesive unit, we have become more responsive. We are much more agile. Is the job finished? No, not yet. We still have a long way to go, but we're well on the way to improving the support that we give to peacekeeping operations. For example we are in the process of signing long-term global freight forwarding contracts this month, which will make deliveries much faster for our peacekeeping missions.

A part of the UN agenda is gender equality and women's empowerment. With the UN system's procurement volume at about $17 billion-more than the Gross Domestic Product...

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