Swisscontact's SEC Programme has been working for more than 40 years to bring high-quality, effective advice to Latin American SMEs, which are an important driver of job creation in the region. SMEs are increasingly facing challenges in meeting high quality standards.
"When companies approach the SEC Programme, they are looking for a new perspective on their company, a guiding hand to help them reach a new goal or to improve their way of doing things", explains Carmen Zapata, coordinator of the SEC Programme in Bolivia.
The knowledge of the SEC experts, their critical eye and the skills they have acquired throughout their professional lives enable companies to solve everyday or very complex problems quickly, effectively and economically.
Through its work in Bolivia, the SEC Programme has advised more than 80 companies to diversify their products or services, improve their production processes, improve the management of their staff and/or enhance the promotion of their products or services. All these aspects lead to SMEs being able to optimise their production and efficiency. In this way, they gain access to new markets, obtain better prices or increase their income in a sustainable way.
"Expectations have been exceeded. We have achieved much more than we expected. We knew we had a lot of room for improvement, but Wim and Henk's advice helped us to see our weak points. With very practical and simple solutions we can already see significant improvements," explains Walter Roda, General Manager of ISALWA SRL.
"I think it has been an ideal experience. The planning was good, and it was developed almost like a recipe for us to follow. They did a great job, and we are starting to implement the plan. We are on the right track", says Waldor Teran, financial and administrative manager of Sur Paredón, another company that asked for SEC´s assesment.
The SEC experts are professionals with significant experience in business issues. They are willing to share this expertise on a voluntary basis. "The expert always had a suitable solution or advice for every problem and the communication was excellent. I felt very comfortable working with him. Jacob Michael, the SEC Expert we worked with, was always available and very attentive. He had the best possible solution for all the problems we raised," says Alessandro Baldo, from the company CASSUR SRL, who received advice to rethink the AIRU, an eco-efficient building project.
The restrictions implemented in Bolivia during the Covid-19 pandemic led to changes at all levels of the SEC programme. First and foremost, in order to continue to support SMEs, online advisory services replaced the traditional on-site assignments. Advice that was previously given in person is now given via Zoom, WhatsApp or other digital media.
"Of course, this new way of working was very challenging, but using the tools at hand and a lot of creativity we were able to move forward. For example, chefs working online with restaurants can no longer see or taste the food, but the innovative use of photos, videos and tasting panels have solved this issue," explains Elizabeth Goodwin from the SEC headquarters in Zurich.
In addition, the restrictions have also influenced the way companies market their products. The new reality sped up the adoption of online shopping, which was previously little-used in Bolivia. Suddenly, it became part of the everyday life of the population, especially in urban areas.
The need to maintain sales volumes led many companies to improve their presence in social networks, to develop virtual shops and position their products in search engines. Many entrepreneurs realised that they had a lot to learn in order to position themselves well in the digital market. This led to an increase in requests for advice about digital marketing, a trend that is here to stay. This need has also redefined the profile of the consultancy services offered by the SEC Programme.
Another positive change was that by not having to travel, the pool of available experts is larger, as there are professionals who have not yet retired who can share their knowledge during their free time.
SEC and its clients are very impressed with the results of the new online assignments, and they will continue to offer online advice in addition to the traditional in person assignments even after travel restrictions are lifted. SEC can provide solutions suitable for everyone. Today the only decision Bolivian entrepreneurs have to make is which of their goals they want to pursue first.