RA International has become in a little over 15 years one of the leading providers of logistics and life-support services for international organisations, largely operating in remote or conflict areas. In the last few years, the company has grown to offer a range of other services (maintenance, construction, operational). In this revealing interview, CEO Soraya Narfeldt talks about how the company has expanded, the secrets behind its growth, and her outlook for the mining industry.
Soraya Narfeldt started RA International while staying with her husband, who was living and working in Afghanistan. During this stay she volunteered for the UNDP REEP programme and subsequently other UN agencies within various finance and procurement roles. She made a name for herself as a fixer and the go-to person. Very soon, she was a private company providing support services to the country's most remote places on behalf of the UN and other similar organisations from NGOs to embassies and multilateral organisations.
Given the stringent policies and procedures of the UN and other such bodies, she was forced to build a company with foolproof structures and strict regulations. But what truly differentiates her from others is the softer-side of doing business. Given the challenging terrain that she had to operate in, both literally and figuratively speaking, ensuring you understand the local community and working hand in hand with them is critical to the successful delivery of a project, she says. As part of her reconnaissance trips she therefore ensures that she and her team have a deep understanding of the area where they operate, both the physical landscape and the cultural one. She also makes sure that the deployments are inclusive in that they involve the locals as much as possible--that is, making local content a key part of the solution, employing local staff, sourcing locally and consulting them. It is part of the DNA of the company she says, to hire locally, train the people, not only to gain the necessary skills but to work within the strict guidelines of the project, thus instilling certain values and a work ethic.
RA International has worked in 10 African countries, including Somalia, South Sudan, Chad, Central African Republic, Senegal, Uganda and Kenya. It can set up a camp of any size anywhere in Africa, providing the whole support system needed for it to operate effectively. Timeframes vary, although it generally means setting up shop within 30...