Interview with Ravi Shankar, Director, Africure Pharmaceuticals; Michelle Espinach, Sustainable bank manager, Banco Promerica; Patrick Joseph, Regional control and audit manager, Mission Laïque Française
Africure Pharmaceuticals, an Indian group operating in Sub-Saharan Africa, Banco Promerica, a Costa Rican bank operating in Latin America, and La Mission Laïque Française, whose network of schools covers some 40 countries… What do they have in common? They have all benefited from a technical assistance program provided by PROPARCO. In this interview, these players in health, banking and education analyze the benefits they have gained in terms of capacity building, promoting their services, improving processes and E&S good practices.
WHAT IS THE SCOPE OF YOUR ORGANIZATION’S ACTIVITIES?
Ravi Shankar (Africure Pharmaceuticals): Africure Pharmaceuticals was established with the vision of providing quality and affordable healthcare to the people of Africa. We believe that local manufacturing is the future of pharmaceuticals in the region. Hence, our primary focus is on setting up manufacturing facilities in Africa, by upholding our motto ‘Made in Africa by Africans for Africa’. At Africure, we are committed to solving the pertinent issues for Africa, namely import dependency, affordability, unemployment, technology, and counterfeit drugs.
Michelle Espinach (Banco Promerica): Banco Promerica was founded by 14 people in a small building in San Jose and by definition was an SME. Thirty years later, we are the fourth-largest private bank in the country. We believe in SMEs and the impact they have on our country’s economy. Our business portfolio in terms of client mix is 70% SMEs and 30% corporations.
Patrick Joseph (Mission laïque française): The Mission Laïque Française (MLF) is a nonprofit and state-approved association founded in 1902. Its mission is to disseminate the French language and culture around the world through secular, multilingual and intercultural education. The association has a network of 110 schools in 36 countries with over 61,000 pupils enrolled, from kindergarten to the final year in high school. In Africa, MLF has schools in several countries, including Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia and Gabon.
IN WHICH WAYS DO YOU BENEFIT FROM TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE (TA)?
Michelle Espinach (Banco Promerica): All business units in the bank understand the benefits of working with DFIs and other investment funds in using technical assistance. Even clients understand the benefits, since most TA projects benefit them, and recently we have been channeling some of the support directly to them. We have a culture of learning, and technical assistance enables us to build capacity, improve our processes, develop new customer experiences and communicate our actions sustainably. With Proparco, we received technical assistance to improve our value proposition to SMEs. The recommendations provided by the consultant were useful.
Patrick Joseph (Mission laïque française): Proparco assists us with projects to set up or restructure schools and for our training centers. We currently have two centers benefiting from this support in Côte d’Ivoire and Morocco. In addition, Proparco supports us in energy efficiency projects in Morocco, Ethiopia and Egypt. The TA also allows us to build our environmental and social (E&S) skills and benefit from external expertise.
Ravi Shankar (Africure Pharmaceuticals): Proparco provided us with a technical grant spanning a three-year period. The grant was to support us in upscaling the quality of our infrastructure, to train employees and other industry members, and to impart knowledge of quality management systems to various sections of society. For growing companies like us, there is always a capital allocation decision point and having dedicated funding and a budget for constant improvement internally and externally has helped us to focus specifically on this functional area.
WHAT IMPACTS DOES THIS SUPPORT HAVE ON YOUR ORGANIZATION AND STANDARDS?
Michelle Espinach (Banco Promerica): Technical assistance creates value in the organization, and this is one of the benefits we receive from working with DFIs and investment funds. They provide resources to the organization that helps promote areas that usually do not have resources at the time. It helps us move faster and structure projects that provide new business, build capacity within teams and learn best practices from other parts of the world.
Ravi Shankar (Africure Pharmaceuticals): We are able to consistently monitor the effective implementation of our quality through scheduled audits and resultant action plans. We are proud always to be audit-ready at our facilities, and this emphasis on quality has been imbibed into the culture of our organization and people. The technical assistance grant from Proparco helped us on our journey to being compliant and socially responsible in our quality initiatives. Our initiatives as part of the TA deliverables have enhanced our credibility with regulatory agencies, who view us as a reliable and quality-focused partner.
Patrick Joseph (Mission laïque française): Defining environmental and social criteria, for example, requires being able to take them into account over time. Technical assistance makes this possible. More generally, TA allows us to meet a number of financial and technical criteria required by our donors. TA therefore has an impact on the definition and requirements of our activities and, ultimately, on our strategy and results.
HOW DOES TA SUPPORT ENABLE YOU TO BETTER AID THE DEVELOPMENT OF SMES IN THE COUNTRIES IN WHICH YOU OPERATE?
Patrick Joseph (Mission laïque française): We don’t always have sufficient capacity to develop new markets in the countries where we operate. But we do manage certain E&S issues. For example, this is the case in Ethiopia, where we have installed a wastewater treatment plant which we want to make available to other local economic operators. Similarly, in Egypt and Morocco we are aiming to obtain the High Quality Environmental (HQE) standard through technical assistance services.
Ravi Shankar (Africure Pharmaceuticals): Operating in Africa, we procure many products and services locally; a lot of small businesses are our vendors. It would be impossible to have the best quality systems and processes unless the input from our vendors was of the same caliber. We have imparted training to many of our vendors through the TA grants we have received, helping them through vendor audits to establish standardized processes and documentation. This has helped them to scale up their systems and deliver top-notch products and services to us.
Michelle Espinach (Banco Promerica): Using Proparco’s technical assistance as an example, brought a new perspective on how to differentiate our credit process for SMEs, reducing the number of requirements, fast-tracking the process, and opening new channels for reaching new customers, and improving our overall value proposition.
TO WHAT EXTENT CAN TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE HELP TO DEVELOP NEW COMMERCIAL TARGETS?
Michelle Espinach (Banco Promerica): The technical assistance from Proparco helped us determine that there was a substantial opportunity to use the branches to provide loans and also to develop a universal executive who could provide clients with all the services they need.
Patrick Joseph (Mission laïque française): Education is a global market. In some countries, it’s also a social marker. When our range of services is recognized, with strong E&S criteria, it stimulates the market and has an impact on the competitors who occupy the same niche as us – generally Anglo-Saxon companies.
Ravi Shankar (Africure Pharmaceuticals): As an organization that emphasizes quality, we are in a good position to forge partnerships with government organizations and big pharma companies. Except for size, our systems and controls are comparable and in line with any such large establishments. TA has helped us to remain attractive to our customers, in being always seen as a reliable manufacturer. This helps us scout for new business relationships and further nurture and convert them into long-term relationships. Our competitors and peers see us as one of the better companies in the industry.
THE COVID-19 CRISIS HAS WEAKENED MANY PRIVATE SECTOR ACTORS. WHAT ARE THE NEW NEEDS IN TERMS OF TA SUPPORT?
Ravi Shankar (Africure Pharmaceuticals): COVID-19 has impacted our businesses by shrinking our margins, with large outlays on COVID-19 management and increased input material and freight costs. In such times, it is important to revisit one’s business models and to change course where necessary. We have been resilient and have grown stronger than before. Additionally, we believe that the scope of TA support can be extended to new product development, new technologies, differentiated drug delivery systems, and expanded technical capabilities.
Michelle Espinach (Banco Promerica): SMEs have been the most impacted by COVID; they need new ways to adapt to the new normal. The bank has been providing relief in terms of extending loans but also by providing toolkits to improve these businesses. For example, we developed one such toolkit for the tourism industry, with technical assistance from eco. business Fund. Our electronic channels department also developed a payment gateway to help SMEs develop a landing page for selling their products online.
WHAT IS YOUR DEVELOPMENT PERSPECTIVE?
Ravi Shankar (Africure Pharmaceuticals): The opportunities to grow are unlimited. I believe that every country in Sub-Saharan Africa on the road to self–sufficiency has the capability to house a manufacturing industry. The situation that we faced during the COVID-19 period has woken up many governments and has re-emphasized the need to start building their manufacturing capabilities, and Africure is here to support them in as many ways as possible. We continue to look at putting up a new plant every two years and at managing struggling plants, to turn them into success stories. It would be no surprise if Africure has a basket of ten plants in the next five years.
Michelle Espinach (Banco Promerica): We hope that the COVID-19 crisis will soon be mitigated. Unfortunately, the climate crisis is here, and we need to lead the companies in our portfolio and future clients to transition to a low-carbon economy. This will be one of our focuses in the future, the other one being to support the empowerment of more women-led companies.
Patrick Joseph (Mission laïque française): Our development perspective is closely related to the development of middle classes in the emerging countries where we operate. In these countries, families very much appreciate the fact that we provide assistance with education and decent conditions. These are very important issues.
Cameroon: employers are developing Central Africa’s first code of good governance
In 2019, the Cameroon Employers Organization (GICAM) decided to propose a governance reference framework to public and private Cameroonian companies. AFD Group, through joint action by AFD and Proparco, is providing technical and financial assistance to this initiative which is fully in line with its objective to support economic and financial transitions.
In practical terms, in addition to the provision of its internal experts, AFD Group is enabling the mobilization of an international consulting firm at GICAM specialized in good governance, Nestor Advisors, for the development and promotion of this guide. This mechanism is the first of its kind in Central Africa and will provide a reference framework for companies, family-run SMEs and large corporations, as well as public entities.
It will provide Cameroon with an up-to-date governance reference framework, reflecting the local constraints and needs, as well as international good practices for governance. This new code will also increase the confidence of shareholders and other stakeholders in local companies by promoting a conducive business environment.
Africure is a manufacturer and distributor of essential generic pharmaceutical products (e.g., paracetamol, basic antibiotics, anti-malaria drugs). Its headquarters is based in India, but it operates throughout Sub-Saharan Africa. In 2018, the Group opened its first generic manufacturing plant in Africa (Cameroon), which has allowed it to position itself as one of the few players operating throughout the pharmaceutical value chain in Africa.
Banco Promerica is a universal bank offering financial services to companies and individuals. It is the fourth largest private bank in Costa Rica and a member of the regional group Promerica Financial Corporation (PFC), which operates in nine Latin American countries. The bank is increasingly participating in the SME segment and offers innovative products tailored to the needs of its SME clients, which have been facing new difficulties since the onset of the crisis.
MISSION LAÏQUE FRANÇAISE
Mission laïque française, a French non-profit association, recognized as a public utility, heads a network of 112 French educational establishments abroad with over 60,000 students in 39 countries. It also works with the State and/or companies on educational cooperation programs.