Introducing our SEC coordinators and their countries

Brigitte Mäntele has been our coordinator in Benin since 2012. Before that, she worked as a teacher. In 1984, she came to Benin with the German Development Service to teach German. Ever since, she has lived and worked in the coastal city of Cotonou. In addition to her work for the SEC, she gives German courses for non-German staff in German Cooperation projects.

Brigitte finds working for the SEC very exciting because it brings her into contact with other people. Through her work, she was able to make many contacts both in Benin and in Switzerland, some of which continue even after her assignment. The special thing for her is that the assignments in Benin (with very few exceptions) bring quick positive results and existing problems can be solved. Brigitte says: “I have great respect for our experts, who always give their best here, despite climatic conditions that are not always easy, such as heat and high humidity.”

The SEC in Benin
Since Brigitte started working for SEC, she has accompanied over 75 SEC assignments. Most of these consultancy assignments have been in vocational education and training. This includes vocational schools (lycées techniques) as well as craft enterprises and craft associations. Other assignments were conducted in the hotel and restaurant industry and in food processing.

Benin is heavily dominated by agriculture, so there is little large-scale industry. Currently, an industrial zone is being built and expanded. Accordingly, there are still many small and micro enterprises that can benefit from SEC consultancy. At the moment, these are mainly handicraft businesses in food processing. This sector is currently on the move.

Especially after the COVID crisis and in connection with the current restrictions on wheat imports from Eastern Europe, a rethinking is taking place in Benin: There is an increasing focus on local grains, food and foodstuffs. Until now, the conviction prevailed in many cases (for historical reasons) that only imported products were good. In this context, the food sector is developing very fast. We would therefore like to continue to advise small producers or (young) women entrepreneurs who are active in food processing, online or on site.

Experiences with SEC assignments
When SEC introduced remote assignments during the COVID crisis, Brigitte was not enthusiastic at first. She thought this new form of SEC assignment was a stopgap solution that seemed suitable at best for management and marketing consultancies. However, Brigitte was convinced otherwise during the remote assignment of a chocolate producer. The young entrepreneur was already producing good quality chocolate. During the remote assignment with an SEC chocolatier, he was able to further improve the quality and expand his product range. Brigitte was surprised how good tasting chocolate was produced with few means, in a small space and by hand. The SEC expert then also accompanied the young entrepreneur when he moved to a new, larger production facility with more machines. The cooperation between the expert and those responsible for production was optimal, despite the sometimes poor internet connection. The team in Benin had done a great job. And Brigitte was shown that good results can also be achieved in production with remote assignments.

In her everyday life as SEC coordinator, Brigitte is confronted with difficulties from time to time. She then has a kind of mediating role for both parties. In each case she tries to promote understanding if the behaviour on one side or the other is not understood equally well. Or she ensures that the logistics (accommodation and catering) function regularly and well and that deadlines are met. Sometimes the experts do not have an optimal command of the French language.

Brigitte believes, however, that these are all minor shortcomings in life that can be managed well. It becomes more difficult, she says, when for financial reasons – other than what was planned – there is not enough material for a technical training course, but the expert is already on site and the planned work is to be carried out. In such cases, Brigitte unfortunately has no possibility to help.

“Benin is a small West African country that has made a bloodless transition from dictatorship to democracy. The national conference organised in 1990 was imitated by many countries, but without the same result. The country is not rich, but quiet and peaceful, the inhabitants are open-minded and friendly,” Brigitte answers when asked what makes her country unique.

Facts & Figures Benin

Capital Porto-Novo
Area in km2 122’622 km2
Population 12.6 million
Language(s) French and approx. 60 local languages
SEC assignments conducted since 2002
Main industries of assignments since 2002
Food (17 %), Education (15 %), Mechanic (13 %), Tourism (13 %)
Swisscontact in Bolivia Since 2002
6 projects are currently running
Learn more about Swisscontact’s activities in Benin:
Benin – Countries – Site