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Tackling global challenges: A view from Pernille Darville, procurement’s youngest team member /

Having completed her first business trip with Crown Agents, Pernille reflects on what it’s like to be a young professional working in procurement in times of COVID-19 and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Since you joined Crown Agents in 2020 you’ve had to take on some of the biggest challenges facing the international development sector, including COVID-19 and the crisis in Ukraine. How are you coping?

To be honest, I’ve always been fascinated by the nuts and bolts behind the humanitarian response and interested in how the logistics and operational side of this work was carried out.

It makes it easier that I have been heavily involved in procurement delivery work since I joined, i.e., running the end-to-end procurement cycle. This may sound simple, but it involves a range of processes, from sourcing products and issuing tenders, to evaluating bids, preparing and managing supplier contracts and, most importantly, making sure we achieve value-for-money for our clients.

In times of crisis, we rely on our global supplier network providing us with the best available products matching our clients’ needs, whilst ensuring the shortest delivery timeframe possible. Every hour counts, so the team has been working hard to ensure a constant flow of high quality supplies such as trauma kits and oxygen concentrators.

With everything going on in the world, how have global events influence your role?

Every day is different – I could be working on procuring oxygen concentrators for Ethiopia one day and sourcing COVID-19 testing kits or vaccine freezers the next!

For example, when the USA introduced an export ban on their COVID-related products in April 2020, some hospitals in the Caribbean suddenly lost access to essential medical equipment. We quickly stepped in to support with the procurement of critical hospital equipment, PPE and laboratory items for PCR testing, and we’ve been working across the region ever since.

Last month I travelled out to Turks & Caicos and the Cayman Islands to meet with some of the clients we have been supporting. It was amazing to have the opportunity to visit one of the hospitals in Providenciales where we had helped to procure critical hospital equipment such as vital sign monitors, hospital beds, oxygen concentrators and other non-biomedical equipment and consumables to expand their high-dependency unit capacity and keep their health system response running and operational.

We have also been procuring and transporting vaccines and other essential PPE to Ministries of Health across the Caribbean region to support their pandemic response.

As your first sojourn into the world of business development, did anything during your recent business trip take you by surprise?

Oh yes! I was due to go over with one of our supply chain leads who has over 40 years’ experience and is a dab-hand at meeting clients and suppliers. Due to unforeseen circumstances, he had to pull out on the day, leaving me somewhat panicking in Heathrow airport. With the sinking realisation that I was going to have to meet, entertain and pitch to Governors, CEOs and Chief Medical Officers by myself, my legs were genuinely shaking as I got onto the plane! Thankfully everything went smoothly when I was out there, and I had some very fruitful and interesting conversations. The people I met also couldn’t have been more welcoming and friendly. I suppose if you’re going to start learning the ropes of business development somewhere then you might as well go “in at the deep end”, but I’m hopeful my next trip will come with a little less stress!

Sounds like you’re already at the top of your game! What do you think makes procurement such an interesting field to work in for a young professional?

Procurement is a very versatile profession, it’s difficult to see from the outside but it plays such a central and influential role in most organisations – you really don’t realise how important it is until you start working in it! There’s much more to procurement than the transactional delivery of goods and services; the consultancy side of the business is an exciting area where we get to work closely with clients to help improve and optimise their procurement processes, develop strategies, build capacity and conduct value-for-money assessments. I really like that I get to speak to so many different stakeholders, both internally and externally, and that so much of the role involves teamwork. The procurement function at Crown Agents houses some great and very experienced people, and we all drive each other forward to achieve the best results.

Thank you for sharing so much about your career journey so far – I’m sure it will be inspiring for other young professionals starting out in the sector. If you had to summarise what it’s like to work at Crown Agents, what would you say?

I have met a lot of passionate, hard-working, and experienced people since joining the company and it has been a great place to learn and develop my skills as a young professional. Having provided procurement expertise to governments, ministries, institutions, philanthropists, and NGOs for over 185 years, the wealth of experience and global reach at Crown Agents makes it a totally unique place to master the trade.