ITC management response to the evaluation
Statement by ITC Executive Director Arancha González.
Delivered on 11 June 2014 at the 48th session of the Joint Advisory Group - WTO headquarters, Geneva, Switzerland
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Thank you Bernard for your presentation and for the work that you and your team have conducted on this evaluation.
I am grateful to the evaluation team, and to the members that have financed and shepherded this important piece of work and all of those who have participated in the successive steps of the evaluation process.
This external view of the institution is very useful for me as an incoming Executive Director. It gives ITC a root and branch assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the organization and it provides a direction for the road we must now walk to become better and deliver even more for every dollar, franc or kroner invested.
I take this evaluation and the verdict reached by Bernard and his team, as a strong vote of confidence in ITC, in its mandate and relevance.
The evaluation finds that at its very core ITC is fit for purpose. Notably it is strong at providing quality specialized technical services, from supply chain management to advising on emerging environmental standards to midwifing the birth of national export strategies.
It also concludes that ITC is adaptable to beneficiary needs. Its small scale and nimble approach allows ITC to be flexible to the realities it encounters and to the demands and priorities of the clients. You could say that “thoughtful pragmatism” is the only dogma they found.
Importantly, they found no evidence of deterioration in any aspect that they analysed. Positive change – improvement, progress – has been fully realised across the board and in almost all dimensions, although starting from a low base. They also found that this forward momentum has been growing since around 2011 and has picked up speed the last few months.
The evaluation focuses on a limited number of strategic recommendations that are complemented with suggested activities for the ITC management and what is termed ‘ITC Governors and supporters’- which are in many respects the JAG. The challenge for us at the ITC, but I dare say for us all in this room, is to build on these recommendations to take ITC to the next level.
The recommendations can be organized around five key strategic areas. All of these are areas which have been the focus of our actions and initiatives since I took over last September. In other words, work is already in train. Let me briefly address each one of them.
I. The first strategic direction is to ensure that the work of ITC is more focused and planned around better-defined priorities. The objective is to plan in a more orderly and consistent manner, the development of ITC activities and the translation of its resources into action.
The operational plan for 2014 already focused the ITC activities around six big themes or baskets:
- Trade and market intelligence for SME Competitiveness
- Supporting regional economic integration and South South trade
- Connecting to Value Chains
- Strengthening trade and investment support institutions
- Promoting and mainstreaming inclusive and green trade including cross cutting issues of sustainable development such as gender, the environment and youth; and
- Building a conducive policy and business environment though public-private partnership and dialogue.
This will be the backbone of our focused interventions. This can also become the backbone for the resources to be provided by our partners.
To further support this more strategic direction we have also started work on a new Strategic Plan for 2015-17. This plan will refine our focus on areas where we think we can have the most impact, and make clear what we think we can deliver by when. Where we have no value to add, we will not engage. A public consultation on this will be launched after our discussion at the JAG, to ensure we build this with as many inputs as possible. Let me also add that we are developing a set of strategic solutions around SME competitiveness which are being developed by small teams with cross-sectoral and divisional input to ensure greater coherence and impact of our work.
II. The second strategic orientation is to further improve the technical expertise of ITC's work.
We are working to place the ITC at the forefront of technical solutions and thought leadership on SME competitiveness. We have been very focused in recent months in producing innovative solutions. These range from, inter alia, trade facilitation solutions for developing countries to help them with their Bali obligations, supporting youth incubators, and extending our non-tariff measure surveys. And we will soon deliver a new generation of the national export strategy design. We are also improving project design including mainstreaming sustainability and gender dimensions.
III. The third point is the need for the ITC to become leaner and more efficient. The evaluation identifies the efforts and the results obtained to improve internal efficiencies. It also acknowledges the effectiveness of our implementation. We need to go further, as the ambition is to maximize the value of the use of our resources.
On seeking efficiencies we have pushed forward an exercise we call ‘costing’ where we identify detailed costs of all our activities. This will allow us and our partners to have a better sense of the real price tag of our operations. Later this year we will also be releasing a full and comprehensive catalogue of the ‘services and solutions’ which ITC offers. We have also re-doubled our work to make our new Client Relationship Management (CRM) system the lifeblood of all our client relationships. On top of this we are identifying manual processes that we can speed up to cut down on internal transaction costs. These range from project approval processes, to streamlining Memoranda of Understanding to leave requests, and better defining common terminology around our interventions. Together, these and other initiatives are delivering, today, a leaner ITC.
IV. The fourth line of action is to increase ITC’s accountability with members. We will continue to strengthen the quality, dialogue and transparency with members and stakeholders around our plans, performance and results.
In terms of enhanced accountability, we are developing a policy framework to help support organizational and individual performance and reinforce a culture of transparency, results and impacts, value for money, and good governance. This will be accompanied by a skills management policy as well.
Considerable efforts have been put in improving the functionalities of the project portal to provide stakeholders with monitoring information on projects results, and aggregate this data at the corporate level. Over the coming months we will also be fine-tuning the project portal to greater improve usability.
V. Finally, the fifth strategic orientation is to raise ITC’s visibility and become more recognized. My objective is to continue to position the organization as a key actor in the global Aid for Trade effort and in the post 2015 debate.
We have already taken important steps in this area. ITC has been following a more pro-active media approach, both at the corporate level and at the project level, and are working on embedding visibility into the design of our projects and programmes from the start. At the end of last year we also revamped our web site – with news and information about the work and impact of ITC now squarely in focus.
Applying these strategic orientations is the responsibility of ITC. Much of our success, however, will be highly contingent on support from our members and stakeholders:
First – to truly realize its potential ITC needs more stable and predictable funding. Without this in place the evaluation finds it will be very challenging to invest in the right areas, and expertise. This is the crucial variable here, to be able to reap medium and long-term benefits for our clients. My vision is for ITC to grow within its existing and clear mandate and I know this is a focus that you share. But for this to happen it needs stable, predictable and multi-year resources.
I am aware of the constraints faced by many of our supporters. But in my view it is as much to finance the ITC as it is to ensure that funding channeled to other multilateral organisations and bilaterally in-country is better leveraged with the clear technical expertise of the ITC.
Second, ITC needs to intensify relationships with beneficiary country stakeholders, in particular the private sector. This is crucial to understand the real priorities of those on the ground and to improve and evolve the services and tools that we provide to help these businesses internationalise.
Here we have made great strides in tackling some of these challenges and are very much on track in already addressing many of the recommendations the evaluation has made.
There are, however, other recommendations that require more thought and analysis over time. Two stand out:
The first is those that would have ramifications for the internal organisation of ITC. These include the suggestion of a new programme development unit, the working relations between technical and geographical units, and finally the liaison arrangement for key regions. Stepping in at the apex of an organisation it is easy to immediately start to re-arrange the furniture. But it is not always the right solution, so I tend to prefer caution over haste in this area and would like to take
some time to deliberate and discuss with the ITC staff how best to approach this subset of recommendations.
The second set of recommendations which would need to be addressed are those that directly affects or can be affected by you, our members, supporters and governors. These are all areas where we, ITC, alone cannot move on our own. We need your deliberation and energy to be brought to bear.
Here we group the recommendations on financing and governance. In the former the evaluation asks for longer term, more stable financing, and access to decentralized and bilateral funds. In the latter set are those recommendations around modifications to governance including the suggested ‘Friends of the Chairs’ meetings, and the idea of developing a more flexible relationship with some of the UN perceived regulatory and procedural strictures.
So that is our reading of the evaluation so far, although given that it was only finalized last week there is a need for additional time to mature our thinking as we absorb more of it over the coming weeks.
For next steps I would suggest that we re-convene in the final part of 2014 to have a fully informed discussion about our collective response to the evaluation. In the meantime I propose we treat the intervening period as a phase for dialogue and correlation in parallel with the consultation on our new Strategic Plan.
Let me assure you that I will marshall efforts within ITC to scrutinize and rapidly improve areas that have been revealed require some fine-tuning such as knowledge management, risk assessment and project cycle management. I propose to fully report on this when we meet again, with your agreement, towards the end of the year.