Vivien Suerte-Cortez is a development professional with nearly 20 years of experience working with local and international civil society organizations, the private sector, national and local governments, and development organizations.
She is passionate about anti-corruption, public procurement, open contracting, social accountability, and the use of technology and innovation in amplifying citizen voice, protecting civic space, and holding government to account. She is also experienced in public policy and knowledgeable in public finance management, particularly in designing and implementing strategies to increase meaningful and strategic stakeholder engagement.
Vivien has the proven ability to design and efficiently manage multiple projects and capacity development programs. She is capable of developing strong and sustainable relationships with diverse stakeholders within different environments. She’s open-minded, curious, always willing to learn, an active listener, and unafraid of failure.
In 2013, Vien was given the Bright Spot award by the Open Government Partnership in recognition of her work in implementing the Citizen Participatory Audit program with the Philippine Government’s Commission on Audit. She was also recognized as one of Devex’s 40 Under 40 International Development Leaders in the same year.
What is your professional background and how did you become involved in the world of commerce and contracting?
I was introduced to public procurement in 2002 when I was working with civil society organizations advocating the passage of the Government Procurement Reform Act. The GPRA was passed the following year. I was one of those who took part in successfully advocating for the inclusion of civil society observers in the law’s implementing rules and regulations.
My work with Procurement Watch in 2007 laid the foundation for my current advocacy for public procurement and open contracting. We capacitated teachers, parents, and students by discussing the law, the importance of accessing contracts, and the value of monitoring. Over time, we witnessed several school principals who demanded replacements of substandard deliveries of school armchairs. These experiences showed me the transformational power of having and using contracting data to hold government and the private sector to account.
My current role in Hivos Southeast Asia continues to reflect my passion to strengthen the engagement of stakeholders in procurement reform. I would describe my life’s work as enabling more people to participate in governance, and bringing them together in an environment of institutional collaboration for contracting reform. While challenging old practices and mindsets and introducing new ones is never easy, it can be done.
What are some personal achievements and contributions through your career.
Making a positive difference
Colleagues say that I constantly look for something to change for the better, with my experience tempering thisdesire. In close to two decades, I have seen much good and I have also seen what makes development work taxing, difficult, and frustrating. This pragmatism allowed me to continue the work I do. I have abandoned the idea that anybody could, on their own, make the world a better place. But I know that innovation happens when individuals and groups with unique strengths and capabilities come together to achieve incremental steps toward a common goal. This is why I think a degree of success was achieved in programs I have managed, such as the Citizen Participatory Audit and Open Up Contracting in the Philippines.
Innovation and entrepreneurship
Colleagues believe that I've been endowed with the skill of looking at a particular situation and spotting an opportunity –for collaboration, for policy influence, or for an initiative. I am able to imagine possibilities and balance the risks against the rewards of pursuing it based on my understanding of the formal and informal processes, the personalities and their key motivations, and the political factors that may affect a certain initiative.
Covid-19 has illustrated the critical importance of helping women to realize their professional aspirations - what role have you played or are you currently playing within your organization to support women in their roles?
My work has been about challenging long-standing norms, introducing new approaches, and opening up spaces for collaboration.
Public procurement used to be secretive, with only those in inner circles and usual participants in the know. Thus, corruption thrives. People were cheated out of resources that were supposed to be for their welfare. This was the deep-rooted problem that the GPRA sought to address, but even the law’s objectives are often frustrated in its implementation.
Increased participation of citizens can help ensure transparency and exact accountability among our leaders. Over the years, I have worked with women who are passionate, persistent and hardworking. They have careers and families, but they make time for meaningful participation in the affairs of government. Likewise, many female government employees are open to new ways of doing their work. I share their hope that the next generation of Filipinos would live in a more transparent environment.
My current work in Hivos allows me to nurture the participation of women stakeholders. This is true for all partners we now have. Specifically, in South Cotabato, we are working to gender-tag womenled procurement activities. This has the objective of encouraging more women-led organizations to participate in public procurement.