Namport leads from the front in education, training, socio-economic development

By Prime Focus Reporter
May 2013
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There is a saying that, “If you want to plan for one year, plant crops. If you want to plan for ten years, plant trees but if you want to plan for a lifetime, invest in human beings.” Namport is doing just that. It has a clear and visible commitment towards capacity building and skills development for all Namibians from all walks of life.

Through the Namport Social Investment Fund (NSIF), which was established in 2006 with just a capital investment of N$500 000, its capital base has grown into millions of dollars. As a result, the Port’s Authority recently ploughed back over N$4m into various community projects at a colorful gala dinner.

Namport leaves no stone unturned to complement Government efforts through policy directives such as NDP 4 and Vision 2030. Namport recently launched ‘Catch Them Young’ and Namport capacity building programmes are a clear sign that the organisation lives true to its values. By doing so, Namport contributes to the national goals such as those of the Vision 2030.

All these projects cost the organisation millions of dollars. As if that is not enough, Namport funds 14 bursaries accounting for N$1m annually.

The manager corporate communications, Liz Sibindi, shares with us the organisation’s motives and what goes on behind Namport’s closed doors.

PF: How did all this start?

LS:The Port’s Authority Act No. 2 of 1994 provided the framework for the establishment of the Namibia Ports Authority (Namport). The Act captures the following key roles; one of which is to uplift and support the communities in which we operate. This provides the foundation for corporate social responsibility. 

The others are to:

•Manage the ports facility better for current trade needs

•Develop the port for future demands

•Contribute to the competitiveness of the Sadc region trade through the exchange of reliable cost effective services of port service

•Facilitate positive economic growth in Namibia by enabling regional trade through cross border trade

•Promote the ports of Walvis Bay and Lüderitz as preferred routes for sea-born trade between Sadc, Europe and the Americas.

•Assist with the development of cross border trade as the funding architects of the Walvis Bay Corridor Group

•Minimise the impact of Ports Authority on the environment by applying information and innovation ISO 14000

 

PF: So this is where you get the NSIF?

LS:Yes?

 

PF: Some call it ‘donation’ while there are so many other references to it. But why ‘investment’ in your case?

LS: Namport’s operational distinction is that, a donation is a once-off intervention that needs no follow up and sustainability. This could include the purchase of a gala dinner table toward a cause or sponsoring school prize-giving ceremonies, etc. It is pretty much about brand visibility by involving the organisation into the day to day community activities.

Investment, on the other hand, refers to a more sustainable and costly project/intervention over a longer period, aimed at enhancing the quality of life of Namibians over a longer period of time. The written funding requests or project proposals submitted to Namport are assessed and approved by a committee and the trustees of the fund. This distinction is adapted from the scholarly differences among the terms to suit the organisation.

PF: Could you highlight NSIF’s contribution towards the wellbeing of Namibians in terms of health, education, entrepreneurship and more, since its establishment?

LS: As a responsible and a responsive Government entity, Namport’s business focus is not only confined to wealth creation but also extends to wealth distribution across the entire country, targeting the segments of our society that are not necessarily in the mainstream of our business activities.

Our focus therefore is to compliment and strengthen Government initiatives aimed at the unfettered development of the country’s human resources development. This is in line with Vision 2030 and the Government’s mandate to promote the socio-economic development of our people as a Namibian company. As you correctly mentioned, the NSIF focus areas are covered under entrepreneurship development, health and education.

Admittedly, the needs within the country are vast and evolve with time. Currently, most of the applications received are in the area of education, while health and entrepreneurship share the other half of the pie.

Various education institutions including all levels from pre-primary to tertiary as well as, initiatives which enhance learning, career guidance and holiday programmes, have been funded through the NSIF. As mentioned earlier, Namport is a proudly Namibian organisation, funding of which is spread across all the 13 regions of this beautiful country. Since inception in 2006, Namport invested well over N$20m in projects across the country.

Namport is a Namibian asset that facilitates trade within the Sadc region on behalf of the Namibian government. Therefore, a major link within the logistics and transport chain and economic backbone of Namibia. We therefore have the entire country in focus even when it comes to corporate social responsibility.

Below are some of the projects funded recently through the NSIF:

•Grade 10 career guidance on wheels: N$500 000

•SpelQuizBee: N$300 000

•Credit for youth under the National Youth Council for five regions: N$750 000.00

•Two computer labs in the Karas Region: N$1m

•N$310 000 for school admin building at the Erkki Nghimtina Secondary School

•N$508 000 for Tukuethela Project 

•Angra Penquina Secondary School: N$167 000 for ICT laboratory

•NIMT N$300 000 for computers

•Dagbreek School N$400 000

•An endowment chair for logistics at the Polytechnic of Namibia N$3m

•Otjozondjupa Region Wheelchair Project: N$1500 000 - and 

•Brenden Simbwaye Primary School hall: N$700 000.

To this end, our efforts have been successful.There are three regions, however, where we are yet to make significant inroads, which we will proactively pursue in the future by liaising with the respective offices.

PF: Given the current size of the fund, what percentage do you give to social investment?

LS: Since the current financial year, the contribution has been capped at N$3m. The reason being; in view of the current focus on the massive strategic expansion of the Port, management is required to balance the returns of the organisation versus its spending, including the NSIF contribution. Prior to that, three percent of the company’s profit after tax went to the social investment fund.

PF: How much money was invested into the project?

LS: It was about N$4.5m.

PF: So does this amount exclude the bursaries that you already give to local students?

LS: Yes. Bursary contribution is considered separately although it falls under education. Namport currently has 14 active bursary holders in the fields of engineering, maritime law, accounting and maritime logistics at a total cost of about N$1m per annum, translating into N$50 000 per student per annum.

PF: And are they studying in Namibia and abroad?

LS: Correct. It is worth mentioning that, besides the scholarships, we recently launched the capacity building project to the tune of N$33m. About 400 employees are scheduled to undergo training through this programme.

The programme is aimed at enhancing and developing skills such as operator training, which include  fork-lifts,  Rubber Tyre Gangtry (RTGs) and other cranes in Operations. Marine pilots, tasks masters, engineers in the marine related field, including the management of the organisation also fall under this project.

This is a deliberate and intensive skills development programme aimed at enhancing the competitiveness of Namport to the benefit, not only of Namibia but also for the Sadc region. 

PF: While you are at it, could you also elaborate on the Grade 12 learners’ pool?

LS: It is worth noting that the maritime industry is very, very specialised. As such, skills are extremely scarce, hence the need to enhance the current skills while developing new potential. To this end, the Ports Authority has seen it fit to invest in our Grade 12 dropouts who show interest in the industry. The CEO mentioned at the gala dinner, 100 learners were recruited last month to start training this month.

It is challenging to replace skills in this industry but by establishing a trained pool of operators, we aim to have skilled replacement to maintain and/or exceed our targets during peak operations. The advantage is that new entrants would commence work at the harbor from any other related environment knowing what to do. In our people, we have the skills that enhance the Port’s competitiveness to deliver and meet the required efficiencies and productivity levels. This cannot be compromised, unfortunately.

As Namport, our success depends on efficient service delivery, high productivity and short turnaround time. That is what we sell in this highly competitive industry. Inability to achieve that is tantamount to losing business and subsequent to negative impact not only on our brand but the country’s economy too. The skills of our people are at the center. This is why the Port places such high value on upgrading their competence.

Our focus is to be true to our brand promise,  “To be the best performing world class port in Africa”. When we sell productivity, efficiency and turnaround time, it is not lip service. We commit to visibly complemet and back our promise with the output of our service delivery.

PF: How come only seven or so gentlemen were awarded with certificates at the gala dinner, given the men to women ratio in this country?

LS:Unfortunately, female participation remains limited due to male domination in the port industry. Namport is in fact committed to introducing more women into the indutry and thus encourages them to apply for entrant and promotional positions at the harbor. Female staff are eventually trained in different categories. The current staff complement at the Port’s Authority stands at 825, 86% of whom are male. 

PF: Could you elaborate more on your relationship with STC?

LS:After defining the training needs, Namport scanned the local market to ascertain local service providers’ capabilities to provide such specialised port related training. Namport requested for quotes from reputable international service providers with quantifiable track records in port related training. Following their submission, STC, amongst others, were invited for presentation and met all our requirements.

We are cognisant of the time-lag between training delivery and return on investment but we are already witnessing positive impact of the training in the relatively short time-span. 

PF: How do institutions such as the Polytechnic of Namibia, the Namibia Institute of Mining Technology and the Namibia Maritime and Fisheries Institute, for example, contribute towards the requisite skills development for Namport’s needs?

LS: For generic needs, Namport draws from the available pool of competent staff from these institutions. However, specialised skills are either sourced from the labor markets, locally and abroad.There have been collaborative initiatives and linkages aimed at facilitating skills development and deployment between Namport and the Polytechnic of Namibia (PoN). To this end, an MoU for skills development, among others, is in place to guide our decisions.

PF: Do you get value for money for all these contributions you make to the communities?

LS: Allow me to reiterate that as a responsible and a responsive Government entity,   Namport’s business focus is not only confined to wealth creation but also extends to wealth distribution - targeting the segments of our society that are not necessarily in the mainstream of our business activities.

Our focus therefore is to complement and strengthen Government initiatives aimed at enhancing the lives of Namibians, as well as the country’s human resource development, in line with the Government’s mandate to promote the socio-economic development of our people. Achieving that alone is immense value for money. As a Namibian company, it is our ultimate goal that the Namibian people identify with this State-owned asset through the humble sustainable interventions in the various focus areas.

The future focus of the fund is to continue strengthening the long-term sustainability and brand visibility. To that effect, we will agree on terms that will provide viable exposure for Namport through the activities of the recipients.

PF: What are your findings on the level of competence of our Grade 12 dropouts?

LS: Namport is acutely aware of labour market challenges of which relatively a high-school dropout incidence is a contributing factor. In response, Namport has initiated (and I repeat)the Trainee Operator Pool Training initiative aimed at creating an additional pool of skilled employees needed during peak operations.

This entails the selection and engagement of our country’s youth – especially those who have already completed Grade 10 and/or 12. The rationale is to equip the youth with the skills and certification (provided by internationally accredited entities) that can aid their employability. In today’s competitive labour market, a person with better skills certification always stand a better chance at  obtaining or retaining employment.

Given the above, Namport has since opted to capacitate youngsters (Grade 10 and 12) to complement its skills-base but also as a token of social responsibility.  The mobility of skilled staff in the labour market provides challenges for staff retainment. Note, creating an additional pool of competent manpower could trigger win-win outcomes.

PF: Now, tell us about the ‘Catch Them Young’ programme.

As stated, Namport’s focus extends to the less fortunate communities for capacity-building that could transform youngsters into productive citizens within their respective communities and in Namibia in general. In essence, this captures the purpose and spirit of the Catch-Them-Young training initiative.

This programme targets gifted grade eight or nine learners from marginalised backgrounds who excel particularly in sciences, mathematics and other related subjects. Namport thus aims to provide an enabling environment for a carefully selected few to ultimately help them emerge as prospective engineers, marine pilots or as operators of certain equipment as dictated by their interests. These learners are recruited in consultation with the regional education authorities.

I am proud to mention that currently, two boys are enrolled at the Low Hill Maritime School in Cape Town, South Africa to further their secondary school till completion. The recruitment of the next intake of about five learners will commence very soon through the aforementioned channels.

As a feeder programme, Namport aims to equally adopt kids in lower grades to develop a pool of “A Plus” learners within the system, particularly from less equipped rural schools, enrolling them in better equipped schools within the same areas. Through this process, we develop the required aptitude in the learners during the initial stages. They can later join the ‘Catch Them Young’ programme and eventually go to university where they can become graduate engineers, pilots and more.

The intention is to catch them before they become dropouts. With this effort, we hope to see a decrease in dropouts in the years to come.  We have different initiatives that are aimed at achieving the [one] Government goal, which we ultimately support: “To enhance the quality of life for our people”.

As the Ports Authority, ours is to be the best performing world class port in Africa. We identified skills development as one of the areas we can proactively invest in to achieve our vision, hence the massive drive.

As an organisation, we equally acknowledge the efforts by the corporate Namibia and believe that together, our co-ordinated efforts are [and will] make a difference in Namibia.

PF: What impact does ploughing back have on the company, eventually?

LS:It goes beyond brand building and visibility. It is very humbling as an organisation to be able to make that difference. Antonia Ude who spoke on behalf of the recipients at the gala dinner said: “For some, a N$10 000 cheque could be a very small amount of money but you could never quantify the difference the same amount would make in the lives of 10 000 Namibians.”

The needs are vast. I remember we had about N$6m the previous year and I was exuded with excitement about giving back to the community. But while going through the process, I realised there were applications that had to be declined because of budgetary and focus area constraints.

As an organisation, we have to follow guidelines and be selective, not because the projects are not worthy. No. But when you compete for a particular pool of resources, you either meet the requirements or you do not. That is the only factor that hinders some projects from benefiting from the funding process. The fund is guided by a set of regulations with distinct focus areas and the committee abides by that. Therefore, it is humbling to make a difference in the lives of those who benefit.

The approval process is thus stringent and applications are thoroughly scrutinised. That is the reason why we have a 95% success rate in all the projects we venture into.

As a State-owned enterprise with a clear mandate to uplift and support the communities in which we operate, Namport is committed to support our Government achieve its developmental objectives. For as long as there is Namport, there shall be the corporate social investment. The social investment fund of this organisation will exist beyond its current management and board of directors.

Through the NSIF, will ensure that the Namport contribution towards Vision 2030 goals and beyond, remains.

PF: Thank you very much for this incisive interview.

LS: Thank you for attending our Annual Social Investment event and for taking time to understand the NSIF operations and projects. The projects sound many but our deliverables are on track. I trust that this will put our passion and community involvement into perspective. I further encourage interested citizens to apply for funding for projects within the focus areas of health, education and creative development. They can contact either me or the Fund administrator; Jo-Ann Stevens at jo-ann@namport.com.na or visit our www.namport.com

It was my pleasure talking to you. PF