VEGA Member PUM Comes to the Rescue of SMEs

By , Promoting Prosperity Worldwide

This article was originally written by Sajjadur Rahman and published by The Daily Star here

Are you an entrepreneur and making small progress? Do you feel there is much more to gain? But you either do not have the resources to hire a commercial consultant or, in case you do, there is simply no local consultant around with specific knowledge and experience.

Here comes PUM, a Dutch non-profit organisation, with its pool of around 3,000 experts on 70 fields to help you out and grow.

PUM stands for “Programma Uitzending Managers” which is Dutch for “Manager Deployment Programme”.

It is a voluntary organisation that was established in 1978 by the Confederation of Netherlands Industry and Employers and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

PUM promotes entrepreneurship and sustainable economic growth in developing countries and emerging markets with its experts’ hands-on advice to small and medium enterprises (SME) of different sectors.

The experts are either retired or nearing retirement from their professions who act voluntarily to help SMEs in developing countries to improve their capabilities, be it productions, employee or store management or quality improvement.

The Daily Star had a talk with John Hummel, representative of PUM, and Geert van Asbeck, its immediate past representative in Bangladesh, at The Daily Star Centre recently.

They said SMEs in developing countries including Bangladesh lack knowledge and production and management skills which are prerequisites for their sustainability but cannot afford commercial consultants to do so.

“It is an opportunity for SMEs in Bangladesh to get an expert person in a specific field at relatively little money,” said Asbeck.

“Just be specific in your requirement and ask the right question,” he advised local SMEs who might be interested in applying for PUM’s expertise.

PUM pays for the airplane ticket of the expert, insurance, visa costs, admin and other expenses. An SME that seeks the advice will have to pay for board, lodging, interpreter costs (if necessary) and local transportation costs of the expert.

“You don’t need to keep them in a 5-star hotel. A decent house with internet access is good enough,” said Hummel.

PUM advises on a wide range of areas, such as agriculture, textile, CSR, environmental issues, waste management, leather, tourism and hospitality, flower, fruits, green glass, chemicals and synthetic materials, health care, metal industries, trade, horticulture, energy and water management etc.

At present, PUM sends around 30 experts a year to Bangladesh, which, according to them, is a focused country for PUM’s volunteers. “We have a target to send 100 missions per year in Bangladesh,” said Hummel, adding that Bangladeshi SMEs face problems in ensuring food safety, safe work places and improving production.

Though PUM was established 35 years ago, it came to Bangladesh in the mid 1990s. It is now in 70 countries and carries out 2,000 projects each year on an average.

Hummel said PUM wants to reduce its services to 30 countries, down from 70, in a bid to be specific and target-oriented. Yet, Bangladesh will remain an important place for PUM’s activities, he said.

An SME with at least 10 regular staff but not more than 400 staff can seek the expertise of PUM. Turnover of the beneficiary firm will not exceed $10 million.

But the conditions can often be flexible, depending on the services an SME wants, said Asbeck. Roosmarie Ruigrok, a PUM expert, advised and coached eight SMEs in Bangladesh producing textiles locally in the slums.

According to PUM’s annual report for 2016, Ruigrok’s technical advice, for instance on how to sew more precisely, did not only have an impact on the appearance of the final product, it also saved materials and thus money.

She said that might not mean so much when you talk about one dress, but it does add up when you count the production of a month or even a year, she said.

In her interactions with the women, the PUM expert focused on what makes them unique.

“When they know how to profile themselves better, creating individual brands for instance, instead of nameless products, they can add value. Cutting out the middlemen in the chain of production, sometimes five or more persons, is also a quick win to generate more income,” she said.