#UNCityzens: When procurement is about people

Procurement is a fundamental part of the United Nations’ work. Every year the member organizations procure goods and services for billions of dollars in support of their operations around the world. UN operations depend on everything from medical supplies to construction materials – all of which must be purchased by the procurement departments of the various UN agencies. Meet Marco Søsted, who is a Procurement Specialist with the UN Development Programme (UNDP). Marco develops and runs training courses for procurement practitioners from all corners of the world with a view to optimizing their procurement operations.

From Receptionist to Procurement Specialist

Originally, Marco had no plans to work with procurement and his career in the UN started by sheer coincidence. As a student, he was looking for a summer job and landed a position with UNDP’s unit for procurement coordination in the former Inter-Agency Procurement Services Office (IAPSO). The student position – which included odd jobs and receptionist tasks – introduced Marco to the field of procurement. Today, 20 years later, Marco is still working with procurement in UNDP and now focuses on training programmes.

“I train procurement practitioners in developing the way they purchase goods and services. Procurement is in fact much more operational than one would think – and it’s about people. In procurement, you work in a charged environment as you constitute the link between the market and the project managers from all around the world. The project managers require specific products and services to help people in need.  It takes a lot of cooperation, planning and communication to make everything run smoothly.”

Global training

Procurement is a very broad field of operation that attracts people with different educational backgrounds, very few of whom have formal training in procurement. Consequently, UNDP has developed a training and certification programme, which is used by their own staff, other UN agencies and external parties such as governments and NGOs.

What makes UNDP’s training programme special, is that it is accredited by the renowned Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply (CIPS).  CIPS is the premier global organisation serving the procurement and supply profession. Dedicated to promoting best practice, CIPS provides a wide range of services to the benefit of members and the wider business community, and thus constitutes an international standard. The courses are available in 11 locations globally, including Bangkok, Dubai, and New York – as well as UN City, in Copenhagen, Denmark.

“A gratifying element of my job is that I help people develop. I provide them with the tools they need to do their jobs even better. Procurement practitioners play a crucial role. If they perform well, many people benefit from it. Also, I appreciate training people who normally do not have access to special training courses like the ones we provide.”

Marco has, among other places, been on field missions in Zambia, the Palestinian Territories, Afghanistan, and Russia where he has, for example, inspected deliveries and assisted UNDP’s country offices with training.

Making people work together

A skilled procurement practitioner can optimize the use of available resources. This requires close cooperation and coordination between procurement staff and project managers. Besides, you can often achieve better prices and delivery terms when organizations buy large quantities.

To be sure, working with procurement requires you to be able to navigate in a complex field with many different stakeholders. The tasks vary a great deal and solutions must often be delivered under time pressure. In an international workplace, you also have to consider cultural differences.

“As a procurement professional you have to think in a holistic manner. You have to be diplomatic, be able to negotiate, cooperate, be empathetic, and be able to motivate. It’s all about people and about getting them to solve a given task together.”

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