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Mobile learning service Funzi gained good partners and potential customers from UN organisations. Finnpartnership’s support helped the company get started.
The learning industry start-up Funzi first got involved with the UN system in the autumn of 2015 when the company’s founders Aape Pohjavirta and Tero Salonen participated in Team Finland’s visit to Copenhagen. Of the organisations that operate in the city, especially UN project service office UNOPS, children’s organisation UNICEF and population fund UNFPA are significant buyers of products and services.
“The trip was beneficial, as we met a lot of people responsible for procurement in different organisations. UNOPS was the quickest to react and was ready to start partnership-like cooperation where new things were to be developed”, says Pohjavirta.
In the partnership phase, nothing is yet bought from the company, but the development efforts may later lead to the actual project and procuring a service.
Finnpartnership may grant business partnership support to companies that participate in pilot and demonstration projects facilitated by the UN and other international organisations. Funzi applied for support and used it to cover some of the costs incurred due to the UNOPS partnership. These included travel costs, for example.
“Without Finnpartnership’s support, we would not have been able to proceed so quickly and effectively. The support served as an accelerator for the activities”, says Pohjavirta.
The cooperation between Funzi and UNOPS led to an education project that promotes entrepreneurship for women in Jordan. Women who have fled Syria are a special target group for the project.
“Funzi already had experience with building services in Arabic, as we had already offered services for training asylum seekers arriving in EU countries. We realised that there would be a need for similar services in areas close to Syria.”
The project utilises Funzi’s mobile learning technology. Jordan River Foundation is responsible for the content of the training. The foundation is one of the most influential non-profits in Jordan.
“The project applies so-called blended learning, which combines self-learning using on-line courses and physical instruction.”
After the UNOPS cooperation project supported by Finnpartnership, Funzi has systematically been identifying the opportunities and potential customers offered by the UN.
The company received its first actual order when UNDP wanted Funzi to participate in the training of the partner organisations in Syria.
“The project is now expanding from representatives in the organisations to the end customers”, says Pohjavirta.
In addition to this project, Funzi has participated in a few tenders for UN organisations, but these processes have not yet reached completion.
Funzi has been planning a new project with UNOPS and is currently looking for funding for it from the UN system. The project is a similar entrepreneurship project, but its target group is different.
“Experiences with cooperation with Funzi have been so positive that naturally we want to continue the cooperation”, says Marjo Riihelä Hansen, Partnerships Advisor, who has responsibility for Nordic partnerships at UNOPS.
Riihelä Hansen reiterates that the partnership phase does not automatically lead to purchasing from the company. UN organisations always organise tenders for the procurement of products and services. The tenders have strict rules in order to ensure equal treatment.
“Naturally a company that has been participating from the start does often well in the tender, however.”
In 2017, UN organisations purchased products and services valued at USD 18 billion. Purchases from Finland were only USD 9 million.
Riihelä Hansen believes that Finnish companies could increase their share, but it requires them to be active and persistent.
“When you get the foot in the door of one UN organisation, you gain positive publicity, valuable references and networks.”
The Team Finland network, for example, organises events and trips that can expand the UN networks and provide knowledge on the available opportunities. For example, the Nordic Procurement seminar organised in Copenhagen every other year is an excellent opportunity to gain first-hand information on the procurements and future needs of UN organisations. Financial support and guidance for meeting UN organisations can also be obtained from Finnpartnership.
UNOPS, in turn, has created a Possibilities Portal on-line service where companies can register their proposals and demonstrate how their innovative product or service could promote the success of UNOPS projects.
“The portal is intended for making it easier for especially SMBs to access the UN markets”, says Riihelä Hansen.
She feels networking is essential. A small company can cooperate with a larger partner so that the criteria set by the UN are fulfilled. International connections are also important.
“For example, it is considered an additional merit if an entity wanting to join a development project has partners in the associated target country. It makes it more likely that the project will achieve permanent results.”
Aape Pohjavirta says that UN organisations are strategically important actors for Funzi in the long run. The organisations are also easy partners to work with in the sense that their operations are professional and the same in all countries, whether it be Sudan, Syria or Myanmar.
“If you intend to sell something to the UN system, however, you must allocate a lot of time and resources for it. Things do not advance quickly and the schedules are what they are.”
Pohjavirta estimates that Funzi representatives have engaged in a few hundred in-depth discussions with UN representatives during recent years. They have allowed us to gain a clear picture on what is occurring in the education sector is in different parts of the world and what Funzi would have to offer.
“We have learned and continue to learn through the cooperation.”
Planning to partner with an international organisation? Participate in Finnpartnership’s application workshops and learn to utilise Finnpartnership’s business partnership support for partnership negotiations, project research or implementing a pilot project with an international organisation, for example.