Wednesday, August 30, 2023


Fifteen years of messing with proposals and deadlines and an uncoordinated head office- and this was officially the last straw that broke the camel's back.

This cartoon is from Morten Morland Times

So last week my team told me they were all working feverishly on a deadline to submit a bid to the United Nations supplier portal. You just have to upload it, they said. It will be ready very soon and we still have a day more, they said. Only you can do this techy part, they wheedled. 
Well, I do know a thing or two about USAID and EU submission portals online, so I was suitably uncomfortable. The previous year a colleague and I had been struggling till 4 am in the morning ( which was a more reasonable time in New York) fighting with dodgy broadband and the tedious UN Atlas portal but we had had about a week to get familiar with that. Even then I had vowed I would not do this again. 
Now the bad news was ATLAS had been shut down and QUANTUM had taken its place and I had only about 24 hours to check and edit the documents we were to submit as well as to get a grip on the portal. 
If you think you can upload your proposal in one of these portals a few hours just before the deadline, think again. 
First off we couldn't get through because someone in the office had the passwords and no one knew who. 
That's a long story itself. So after half a day hysterically trying to break into my own forgotten email accounts and find old passwords the local donor representatives informed us that the password was with our Executive Director, a brilliant man who on principle does not involve himself with IT functions. And why should he? But then... the next question is.. why should he have the passwords? That intellectual giant was in the middle of a string of high level policy formulation meetings and didn't fancy passing OTPs to me with annoying regularity. That's a different problem which we solved at the end of the day by begging for our own account. Until then if you left the computer for about half an hour the whole portal shut  down and you had to call the person with the OTP passcodes. If you think you can have lunch or go for a bath or even take a decent dump during this process, perish the thought. Do you want to keep disturbing a grouchy workaholic non -profit Executive Director ...?

But what about Tec Sup you may ask? For this proposal we had some wonderfully co- operative Sri Lankan officers - but then 1) for transparency reasons they cannot actually go inside our profile to help us and 2) during the previous submission during the new year season there was no one contactable and we were advised to write to Bangkok ... one letter took 4 days to reach us- my question being why cant the portal be made straightforward in the first place. With large buttons at the crucial points. with highlighted emphasis on the important areas and without standards letters from the UN taking up half a page.

Steps to the Countdown
  • Start by watching the 2 hour webinar on how to work with the portal. You need to watch the whole hundred minutes whether you want to enter a fully fledged 3 year contract to construct a dam in Burkino Faso or whether you just want to supply bananas at the canteen. Then there's a hundred and eleven page user guide which if you follow carefully, promises to explain this insanity. Even if you know your Office software and three programming languages this is still torture.
  • The whole QUANTUM PORTAL does not allow bookmarks or links (because they want to be more secure than even HSBC) so there is no way to save any reference point to be able to get back to it - you will have to memorise the entire pathway of each time you want to reach a page. If you make a wrong turn you end up in a dead end and you cannot go BACK (there is no back button) Theres a DONE button but thats different. It means you did whatever you wanted to do but it doesn't navigate you away...
  • Click Supplier portal in the Cover letter . It will be your launching point.(But it wont be in large letters or highlighted or anything. You will have to read the whole page to locate it ) It might be slightly blue, but there are other blue text bits just to make the whole thing interesting. Like various email links...imagine searching for it an hour away from the deadline
  • In the Supplier portal at the left hand lower corner under NEGOTIATIONS, click MANAGE RESPONSES. This is a very important first step and of course the words will be discreetly hidden at the bottom of the page to throw you off.
  • In the MANAGE RESPONSES page click your RFP (this is after you have searched for half an hour for the relevant RFP and then expressed your interest in it) There isnt an easy search feature. You have to adjust variables regarding the region, time period and whether you were invited to bid- one wrong answer and nothing happens. In your REQUEST FOR PROPOSAL PAGE you have to click CREATE RESPONSE. You may want to know the difference between MANAGE RESPONSE and CREATE RESPONSE, because ultimately they seem to do the same thing (-which is draft your bid in stages- and thus could simply have been called DRAFT YOUR DAMN BID). Well its another of those mysteries and it was just done to confuse things. Just do as they say, after all Donors Know Best  
  • In the CREATE RESPONSE PAGE most of the page is taken up by a standard letter from the UN  but there there are 4 discrete links in the left hand corner - Overview, Requirements, Line, Review...
  • If you click OVERVIEW you get a page which is mostly white space but you can put the reference number and save  something-and send any comment to the UN. That seems to be the whole point of the entire page. That and hosting other buttons which were repeated on all the other pages...
  • In the REQUIREMENTS page in the right hand side is a tiny drop down menu with five sections - General /Administrative/ Bidder Declaration / Technical Proposal /Financial Proposal - each has sections that need to be edited and attachments need to be uploaded where I found a tiny discrete dull black plus sign (+) like my cats anus when she's not suffering from Irritable Bowel . Unlike her ass, the plus sign is about the size of a sodding match-head so that you need a magnifying glass to find it, if you even begin to guess that an ass-shaped plus sign could be so fundamentally important. But without it you cannot begin to upload stuff  Of course you would know how important it is if you had read the %#$@ manual, all one hundred and ten pages of it, but remember the deadline for uploading is only twenty hours away, thanks to miscoordinations between Admin and Finance etc etc  
  • Then also in the REQUIREMENTS page there is a tiny line FONT SIZE 6 or something which says  Kindly upload financial proposal documents in financial section (Financial Evaluation - Commercial) only. If your financial proposal is visible in any part of the technical section, your proposal will be disqualified.  NICE TOUCH United Nations, NICE TOUCH! although this probably also disqualifies anyone over 45 because we cannot read text at that size! oh wait, did you know that if you hold down CTRL + Scroll you can adjust the size of what you are reading? No? Ok, well I did and it didn't really help me!  
  • The LINES page is because the UN sometimes needs one whole page of webspace to enter the budget total into one tiny box one inch across/ sometimes if they feel frisky they will ask for a breakdown based on deliverables... 
  • Most of the dialogue boxes are the size of one large sentence of text and have unwieldly scroll buttons, but the page is large and bare: In fact overall the whole QUANTUM portal has a lot of white space that feels as soothing as a strobe light in a mental asylum. I can feel my left eye twitching as I write this.

Im sure the IT Crowd who developed it will have lots to say about their lovely secure portal. Trust me I welcome a debate on it: I WANT  to be proven wrong by people who have used the site and found it lovely, functional, practical. 
What I did hear though is that a number of grassroots organizations (read, simple genuine people with actually functional ideas who don't know about the portals made-up jargon) with proposals drafted in advance had given up bidding when they came to the portal simply because they didn't have technical people who could figure out that twaddle with a deadline looming over them.(or perhaps couldn't read the important print in font size 6)   
And these are just a few of my experiences over the space of 36 harrowing hours trying to upload a last minute proposal to help drought and/or conflict-ridden third world communities. 
The more evil comments I feel like making have been self censored. 
I will need a month of meditation to get over this one. 

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