Interview with the founder and director of EKVITA, Ilgar Mehti
- Mr. Mehti, EKVITA is a recognised brand in the local market; however, you are also winning projects outside Azerbaijan. Please, tell our readers about these achievements
Indeed, over the past 14 years of operation we have already established ourselves as a recognisable brand in the country. However, I would not say that it was easy to become a brand in the local market. traditionally, in consulting sector international companies are better recognised as a brand. Besides, it is a daunting task to communicate the benefits of intellectual work to the clients due to its abstract nature. Despite all these challenges, however, we managed to become a brand in our segment.
With regard to overseas projects, we are still at the beginning of the path. Even though we have been active in international tenders for several years, we managed to win a project in Uzbekistan only two months ago and thus became the first Azerbaijani consulting company to go international. Currently, we applied for several other projects in Turkey and East Africa and waiting for results.
- You mentioned about the difficulties in the consulting sector. Can you please elaborate more on that?
You see, in general, there is a wrong perception that the economy can only be strengthened through production sector. However, this is not true: services can also be exported, and it is possible to create many jobs in the services sector. And we are proud that armed by this idea we also add our contribution to our economy.
- What specific contributions does your company make to our economy?
To be more specific, let us look at the numbers. For instance, last year alone we paid 1.408.326 manats in taxes to the state budget. EKVITA currently employs a professional team of approximately 60 people. And this number does not include more than a hundred external experts who are engaged in long-term projects. Average monthly salary is 2,425 manats, which is 3.4 times higher than the average monthly salary across the country.
Furthermore, by developing and training local personnel, we increasingly engage national experts to projects that in the past were implemented by foreign specialists. And this represents the larger, invisible part of an iceberg, which will have a significant impact on future developments in the long run.
Finally, without being too immodest, in 2020-2021 we spent more than 40 thousand manats to various social projects and aids. These are funds that we allocated solely from our own profits, that is donor funds from projects under our management are not included in this amount.
- What is the key to your success?
Overall, we are now witnessing favourable conditions for doing business in our country. This ecosystem itself is a key driver for growth. Recent reforms have given additional momentum to our growth. As probably you know, due to amendments to the procurement legislation, the share of SMEs in government procurement is growing. We have also benefited from these amendments in recent years by engaging more actively in various projects. We were successful in receiving projects from several organizations, such as the Ministry of Economy, the Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Labor and Social Protection, Small and Medium Business Development Agency (SMBDA), ASAN service, ADA University, Azersu are others.
Same as in developed countries, in Azerbaijan government projects operate as "anchor clients", and on this foundation local companies gain opportunity to become stronger and enter foreign markets. These projects were exactly the reason that enabled us to participate in foreign projects, because the main condition for participation in international tenders is the availability of similar projects in the bidder's portfolio. For the same reason, we started to receive invitations from different foreign partners. For instance, within the framework of the World Bank's employment support project, Italian and Turkish companies invited us to their consortium, our joint proposal was evaluated by the World Bank and we won the tender. Similarly, together with other foreign partners, we successfully implemented various projects of the European Union, the Asian Development Bank, the Islamic Development Bank, the Japan International Development Corporation and other organizations.
- What the situation with the clients in the private sector?
The private sector traditionally forms our main client-base. BP, Equinor (former Statoil), Petronas, Toyota are among the clients to whom EKVITA has been providing services for many years.
Recently, we increased our portfolio of local clients too. Bakcell and Agro Dairy, which are giants in their respective segments are some prominent examples. Both companies hired us to implement ISO 37001 anti-corruption standard, and Agro Dairy has already become the first agricultural company in Azerbaijan to receive this certificate. Bakcell project is also nearing the completion.
- Please, tell us more about that certificate.
ISO 37001 certification is a system that regulates anti-corruption processes in the company. EKVITA received the ISO 37001 certificate in 2017 and became the first Azerbaijani organization to receive this certificate. As far as I know, at that time we were the first company in the entire CIS region who received this certificate. Ever since that date various international auditors perform a comprehensive audit of possible corruption risks in the activities of our company. Our auditor for 2017-2020 was the French company “Ethics Intelligence” and starting from 2020 this audit is conducted by Lloyd’s. The last audit was carried out in May 2021 and was successfully completed. In fact, EKVITA is the only consulting company in Azerbaijan that arranges such audits on a voluntary basis.
Currently, EKVITA still remains the only consulting company in Azerbaijan with the ISO 37001 certification. For this reason, clients from both private and public sectors would naturally seek to engage us. We regularly communicate the benefits of the ISO 37001 certificate and the idea of combating corruption in general across the country. For example, last year we conducted free training sessions on combating bribery in Ganja, Guba and Gusar together with the State Tax Service.
- Thank you for the interview.
As we have already reported, the Azerbaijani consulting company EKVITA has won the international tender of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in Uzbekistan for the "Development and Implementation of Gender-Inclusive Projects in Central and West Asia" Project.
The tender was run through the ADB’s International Procurement Portal and was evaluated at the ADB Headquarters in Manila. EKVITA was a winner among foreign companies from China, India and New Zealand with the highest technical score. Thus, EKVITA became the first consulting company in Azerbaijan that obtained access abroad.