Distance consulting

Entrepreneurial ecosystems
International travel has been rendered practically impossible since March 2020. For Swisscontact’s Senior Expert Contact programme this is a problem because its primary activity traditionally has involved short-term consultancies performed on-site mostly by retired Swiss professionals for the benefit of SMEs in developing countries. However, in light of this situation, the pandemic pushed Senior Expert Contact into a digital direction: now the experts provide their expertise online instead of on-site.

Senior Expert Contact (SEC – formerly “Senior Expert Corps”) is Swisscontact’s oldest ongoing project. Since 1979, it has been linking SMEs in Swisscontact partner countries with retired Swiss professionals and their expertise. Over the course of several weeks on-site, they can trigger impulses to business development, supporting SMEs to develop and grow. With the travel restrictions due to the pandemic, these consultancies were suddenly no longer possible. 

Exchange through digital channels

To prevent the programme from grinding to a standstill, the project team developed the conditions for consultancy assignments to be carried out via digital channels instead of on-site within just a few weeks. Each of these distance consultancies now follows a clear process and predefined time frame of between 6 and 12 weeks. The goal is for experts to work with clients in partner countries for at least two hours per week. Their expertise is also provided free-of-charge in the distance consultancies.

Flying high in Bolivia 

An architecture agency in Bolivia is planning to build a green high-rise in La Paz and is looking for help from a landscape architect. It was intended for this consultancy assignment to take place on-site, instead, it will be carried out virtually. “Supporting a green high-rise project in La Paz, which entails the construction of apartments for socially disadvantaged as well as middle-class residents – this is a must-have! If in this high-rise (initially abandoned) projects such as wastewater recycling, collection of condensation water, urban farming, and façade greening can be advanced, then the distance consultancy will be absolutely worth it” says Michael Jakob, an architect and SEC expert. For the team in Bolivia, the distance consultancy is a positive experience and very helpful in the development of their green high-rise project: “Michael is helping us a lot. Thanks to his advice we are able to improve the project and move it forward. Although his support is virtual, we have had pleasant meetings and good results” according to Alessandro Baldo, an architect and Project Manager at Cassur, Bolivia.

Video tutorials for tailors in Uganda

The ability to advise artisans via digital channels is limited, but there are opportunities: a technical school for textiles design in Uganda requested support to realise modern designs. A fashion expert is now producing videos in which she shows how to make individual cuts. Local trainers then tailor their piece of clothing as instructed in the tutorial and discuss implementation with the expert.

A concept for the future

The SEC team has determined that consultancy needs in the past few years have changed overall: now more than ever, support is requested in business planning, management, marketing, human resources, and finance – which are areas that can be advised effectively through distance consulting. 

Since June 2020, 23 distance consultancy assignments have been launched, while the list of requests from SMEs is long. SEC is planning to continue implementing the distance consultancy model alongside our traditional on-site consultancies, even once travel will be allowed again. Thus, the crisis has helped Senior Expert Contact develop a new service. 

The SEC programme is financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and individual donations.