Free, expert, hands-on help for SMEs

25 August 2008

A Dutch organisation is offering to help small and medium enterprises in South Africa, by providing the free services of retired managers willing to transfer their knowledge and experience to local entrepreneurs.

PUM Netherlands Senior Experts is an organisation funded by the Dutch government and Dutch employers’ organisation VNO-NCW to assist small- and medium-sized enterprises in some 80 countries around the world.

PUM receives requests for assistance in every stage of the managerial process, from administration to finance, automation, production, marketing, technique and a wide variety of specialist fields.

It has assigned experts to advise firms in just about every sector of industry, including construction, textile, metal and wood processing, chemicals and agriculture.

“This organisation has about 4 000 retired ex-managers working unpaid for them, willing to transfer their knowledge and experience to smaller companies in development countries,” senior PUM expert Jan van der Vleuten told SAinfo last week.

According to PUM, their experts do not receive a salary, but are driven by enthusiasm and a desire to make a contribution and meet the challenge of improving the lives of people in far-off countries.

Long-term employment creation

The organisation gives particular attention to medium-sized companies in sectors that are experiencing growth, as they have the highest chances of creating employment in the long term.

“Sustainable economic growth in developing countries cannot be achieved if it does not benefit the poor,” the organisation’s website states. “Because industrious small and medium-sized firms play the most significant role in creating new employment, PUM grants preference to local companies.”

“These companies also make the greatest contribution towards improving socio-economic conditions.”

Practical help

Van der Vleuten further explained that practical, on-site help would be given to those companies that displayed potential, but lacked business experience and also did not have enough capital to hire independent external advisors.

“It may also be that they want to export their products and need good advice on European product rules and regulations,” he added.

Visits by experts usually last between 10 to 15 working days, after which the PUM experts give entrepreneurs suggestions on what improvements they can make to their businesses.

Most often, follow-up visits are necessary, during which the PUM expert returns to evaluate how plans have been proceeding. Sometimes plans are amended, and at other times new suggestions are made instead.

“PUM promotes long-standing relationships and frequent contacts between experts and clients,” the organisation says. “Many PUM senior experts continue to advise their clients after their return to the Netherlands.”

South African projects

PUM South Africa representative Laura van der Merwe told SAinfo that applicants for assistance would have to be small to medium-sized firms operating for at least two years, have between 10 and 1 000 employees, and have a turnover not exceeding R500-million per year.

In addition, the participating client must agree to pay for the expert’s accommodation and food expenses during the duration of the project, as well as for transport to and from the business premises.

PUM has offered advice in a wide variety of fields, including agriculture, transportation, hospitality and tourism, education and training, mining and manufacturing, business development and related services, waste removal and corporate cleaning, and the sale and distribution of medical devices.

PUM experts oversaw a total of 56 projects in South Africa in 2007, including the following:

  • The management of a glass factory estimated that its loses in glass waste were approximately 30%, while an out-dated product range led to declining exports to neighbouring countries.Two PUM experts analysed the entire manufacturing process and trained staff in the latest glass-blowing techniques. In a follow-up visit, the experts focused on refining the company’s product range, which resulted in an increase in exports.
  • A group of farmers’ wives involved in agro-processing wanted their dried vegetable and soup products improved, and a PUM expert was brought in to make recommendations on improving the production process and making use of centrifuges to dry the produce.Together with the kitchen staff, a number of new products were developed, like new soup recipes, flower teas and several kinds of mixed vegetable chutneys. Staff were also trained to sell their produce to local schools as a meal soup, and to present their products on outdoor markets using the motto “From Garden to Table”.
  • Since its start in 2003 as a black economic empowerment operation, a South African dairy farm and vineyard continued to book losses as both workers and management of the 116-acre farm lacked practical experience.An incoming PUM expert made recommendations regarding the reduction of feed cost, the production of own silage, better irrigation systems, pregnancy control among the herd, and breeding, all of which have been met with measurable results, including the doubling of milk production per cow.
  • A South African bulk-transport company with 40 trucks felt the need for a more professional business approach and approached a PUM expert to help.The expert made recommendations about a framework to calculate costs per kilometre, about the reduction of damages, a system for managing the trucking fleet, and also prepared a drivers’ handbook.
  • A South African micro-credit organisation experienced pressures owing to their expansion into other African countries with its micro-credit products, and approached PUM to help them out.To confront the growing pains experiences, two PUM experts first examined the organisation, and then proposed various changes to the management, as well as suggesting changes to streamline both lending operations and company management.

Local small and medium sized enterprises that want more information on the PUM initiative, and to find out whether they can qualify for assistance from the organisation, can contact PUM South Africa representative Laura Van der Merwe at 011 674 2854, 083 427 5151 or by e-mail.

SAinfo reporter

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