RA International has a strategic decision to focus on Africa, Soraya Narfeldt says. Image Credit: Asghar Khan/Gulf News

Dubai Soraya Narfeldt's expertise lies in seeking out the world's trouble spots.

Not surprising for a business, RA International, which was launched in Afghanistan and has since extended its operational base to the remotest or war-ravaged parts of Africa.

In south Sudan, the company has had a presence for seven years. What the company does sounds simple enough. It provides a one-stop shop for procurement, installation and maintenance services for organisations wanting to reach out to remote locations.

"After personally observing a number of multinational organisations struggle with seven to 12 different suppliers in an attempt to get a single project started, I decided that there must be a better way to operate," said Narfeldt, who is now based in Dubai and was one of the ten candidates shortlisted for the recent Ernst & Young's UAE Entrepreneur of the Year awards.

"Things were going wrong as a result of too many people being involved. Also, with no supplier given, or willing, to take overall responsibility, project quality was inconsistent and supplier-supplier politics continuously caused delays leading to significant costs increases.

"We provided clients with one point of contact who could provide a comprehensive solution to their problems and take ownership from start to finish. This significantly reduces project timelines and the costs for our clients."

RA International's contracts range between one to three years on average, and can be extended depending on how long the client wants to be in that particular area.

Political instability

"In many cases, there is no quick exit but rather a natural progression from short-term quick impact projects to longer more definitive contracts which generally involve country or regional development efforts," said Narfeldt.

"In many cases, the contract term is also dictated by the industry our client operates in."

For a whole lot of reasons, personal and otherwise, the company's main stamping ground these days is Africa. "RA International took a strategic decision to focus on Africa," said Narfeldt. "Being part Sierra Leonean and having grown up in Africa means that I have a personal connection to Africa.

"Most African countries have minimal infrastructure and have suffered from many years of wars, political instability and lack of basic infrastructure. Our services are required to get some of the basics in place and other projects that are supported by the international community.

"Although we are commencing operations in Pakistan, we hope to maintain focus within Africa supporting not just international development agencies, but also oil and gas and mining companies who have similar requirements such as camp construction, logistics and remote site services."

In the ten years it has been operational, the company has "always been profitable", according to the founder. "Like any business we have had some periods which have been busier than others," she added. "But when managers get a breather from keeping up with the growth of the business, they are encouraged to look inwards to rethink the company's internal processes."

One would have thought given the inherent risks and the trying nature of this line of business, there would not be too many other players. But Narfeldt sets the record straight.

Specialist services

"Ten years ago there were very few operators specialising in remote environments, and none who were integrated," she said. "Today, with more companies entering our market, we focus on evolving our offerings to stay ahead. We are moving into new geographies and adding more specialist services."

Back-up plans key

  • It's important to believe in what you are doing and enjoy it. If you don't, the difficult days will wear you down.
  • Include a number of back-up plans and ensure that any risks can be mitigated well in advance.
  • Finding the right people who believe in our ethos is the hardest part.
  • A challenging environment can provide the inspiration for any company.