Feature Stories



Social Media is Improving Procurement in Lao PDR

Khamphet Chanvongnaraz, Procurement Specialist, Governance Global Practice

Procurement may not seem like one of the most glamorous fields, but behind every successful project, there is a hardworking team of people who ensure that goods, works and consulting services are procured on time, with reasonable prices and high quality.

In many developing countries, like Lao PDR, there is a huge portfolio of development projects requiring local procurement staff, but a small number of qualified professionals able to do this work.

This means that general consultants are often hired as project procurement assistants, and take years before truly becoming procurement specialists.  With a portfolio of 18 projects in Lao PDR, it has always been a challenge for the World Bank to support and build the capacity of the local procurement staff on all of these projects to ensure they are able to correctly apply the Bank's Procurement Policy and Procedures.

This is where social media comes in.  Mobile phone usage has increased exponentially in Lao PDR, making it a perfect tool to connect professional networks for on-the-go capacity development, which is cheaper, easier, and more responsive than waiting for a training or a workshop. At the end of October 2017, the procurement staff of World Bank financed projects created the "Lao Procurement Group" on the mobile social messaging platform WhatsApp to serve as a platform for communication and sharing of information among procurement staff. Within less than two months' trial, use of the application has been well-received and has actually benefited the team to operate better in many ways.

Some of the key uses of the WhatsApp group so far have been: 1) Discussion of experiences related to procurement issues and real-time support from peers. Sharing standard documents and templates for bidding documents, bid evaluation reports and other related documents. 2) Job vacancy announcements for procurement consultants to help recruit prospective staff. 3) Sharing of knowledge and information. 4) Although this started as a tool for World Bank projects, word has spread to procurement officers of other agencies working in Lao PDR, and staff from other offices, such as Government agencies, have requested to be part of the group.

In this short time, communication across the teams working on World Bank financed projects on WhatsApp has already allowed for much faster problem solving than previously, as well as support across project and sector teams, who may not previously have been in contact. One procurement staff member had never prepared a bidding document for non-consulting services before, which is not a common package.  With the WhatsApp group at his fingertips, he reached out and quickly could get advice and templates from colleagues on other projects.  World Bank procurement specialists have also used the group to quickly share new guidelines and other updated information instantly.

 Although this chat group started as a simple tool to communicate more quickly, it has morphed into an important network for procurement professionals and an opportunity for experienced staff to share experiences with others along the way. As the cooperation facilitated by use of this social media app grows, this simple application may prove as a key stepping stone to the procurement reform of the country.