We Come Bearing ‘Bred Heifers’ by Kelly Barner

Posted on June 27, 2012


In the late 1930’s, Dan West, a farmer from Indiana, was serving as the director of a relief program in Spain. The country had been ravaged by years of war – World War I and the Spanish Civil War – and the needs for basic provisions were urgent. West realized that supplies of food from abroad would never be enough, and he started to look for a better solution. West’s solution was to send a whole cow rather than just its milk, and his idea grew into what we know today as Heifer International. As he said when he returned back home, “These children don’t need a cup, they need a cow.”

One of the core tenets of Heifer International’s mission is that each program recipient ‘pass on the gift’, meaning that they give at least one of the offspring from their gift animal to another member of their community. In the early days of the effort, another farmer suggested to Dan West that he speed up the expansion, and therefore the effect, of his program by sending over ‘bred heifers’ who would bear calves soon after their arrival and immediately begin providing milk. It also made the most of the shipping costs associated with moving these large animals around the world.

After listening to a local representative for the Heifer International organization share this history, I started thinking about what other initiatives might be sped up in the same way. In Western business, there are not many challenges that can literally be solved by sending in a bred heifer. The idea is rather to provide an immediate solution that contains one or more short-term opportunities for growth. We should also take to heart the lesson of maximizing freight; sometimes the hardest part is getting in. If you can find a productive way to stay in, the final results will cover the total effort required to gain entry.

The application of these ideas in procurement is making sure a project is never an isolated effort, but the beginning of ongoing collaboration – particularly if you are struggling to make inroads in a previously off-limits part of the organization. Each sourcing project should be looked at for potential offspring to keep the relationship building and the value growing. For example, as you source a product, look for maintenance services or consumable supplies that are related but not within scope for the initial project. Listen for other opportunities to add to your project pipeline as you interact with members of the department, and set up meetings to discuss them before you conclude your work on the project that got you in the door.

As procurement looks to take on spend associated with traditionally ‘sacred cow’ categories (no pun intended), the largest effort must be taken on up-front, and that is building relationships of trust and understanding with the departments who have been in charge of those contracts and suppliers in the past. Marketing, legal, even IT – these departments have long been responsible for their own procurement activity and have to be won over gradually.

If we swoop in and handle one project, the focus will be on how that spend was managed historically. If we enter with one project and stay long enough to start more, the focus shifts to the process we apply. As is so often true, the issue is not really with the person managing the spend but the tools at their disposal. Many of our stakeholders are still trying to feed the village one cup at a time. The intent is good and the effort is worthy, just not optimal or sustainable.

The other lesson from Heifer International is that they never just drop off the cow and run. They provide training in advance and support afterwards. The bond that is built during this transfer of ownership gives the program much of its strength and makes each recipient an ambassador for the values of the organization. The same can be true for the new relationships forged on the back of each ‘bred heifer’. Converts in one department can help spread the value to other areas of the organization – especially if they are able to describe what a good partner procurement has become.

If you are interested in more information on Heifer International, visit: http://www.heifer.org/


Posted in: Guest Posting