Supporting African export promotion agencies to improve services for MSMEs
The best trade and investment promotion organizations (TIPOs) thrive on a virtuous circle of performance and support: visible success at enabling better export performance enhances their credibility among private- and public-sector stakeholders, leading in turn to more predictable funding and further increases in exports.
Many TIPOs in Africa, in contrast, grapple with a vicious circle. Constant funding uncertainty makes it harder for them to plan and deliver a reliable set of support services to local businesses seeking to connect to international value chains, let alone to experiment with high-risk, high-reward new approaches to help companies overcome the obstacles they confront.
In light of the critical role effective trade promotion can play in enabling businesses – especially micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) – to tap into international markets, countries with TIPOs hamstrung in this way forgo commercial opportunities they might otherwise have been able to seize.
In 2018, ITC and Business France, the French trade and investment promotion agency, started a new programme to support African TIPOs to improve their internal processes and service delivery.
The MOPSE programme (the acronym comes from the French ‘management opérationnel des programmes de soutien à l’exportation’) aims to upgrade the the operational management of export support programmes in 21 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. The goal is to shift agencies into the virtuous circle with more effective operations leading to better export performance, enhanced credibility, higher budget allocations and steadily improving results.
The two-year programme targets chief executive officers and senior managers from 21 participating agencies from West and East Africa for institutional capacity building; individual and group coaching; and networks facilitating the exchange of best practice and collaborative problem-solving.
As part of the programme, participants first self-assess their own organizations to identify internal strengths as well as areas for improvement, based on ITC’s benchmarking indicators for institutional leadership, resources, delivery and measurement. ITC then uses the assessment results to customize training for individual organizations and the group, with the aim of enabling agencies to focus on improving the shortcomings that are the most severe bottlenecks to their growth.
Once agencies start this change process, ITC trains top officials to create an organization-wide sense of ownership, which is essential for effective implementation. For instance, successfully introducing a new results measurement framework typically requires change leaders to articulate a strategic vision for staff and then demonstrate short-term gains that consolidate collective buy-in.
The training exercises were accompanied by technical workshops, during which participants developed action plans and targets for measurably upgrading service delivery for MSMEs. They also attended the World Trade Promotion Organization Conference and Awards (WTPO) as well as the Salon international de l’alimentation (SIAL), a major food industry trade fair, in Paris. There they were able to interact with peers, learn about business trends and management practices, and better understand how their countries’ businesses lined up against prospective competitors.
Institutions report significant improvements since the beginning of the year, as each agency has designed and started to implement two related plans to improve internal managerial and operational processes, as well as to upgrade the delivery of export promotion services. The plans set a direction for each institution and enable them to mobilize support and resources from stakeholders.
On average, the participating institutions have completed 44% of their managerial and operational improvement plans after the first year.
Burkina Faso’s export promotion agency, APEX Burkina, has redefined staff roles and responsibilities, set up a new client relationship management system and divided 600 exporters into segments based on export readiness. It has adapted its portfolio of services to better respond to different segments’ needs. For instance, for businesses that are already exporting, a TIPO might offer troubleshooting services, market intelligence and brand-building support. For those with high export potential, it might provide product development support, management capacity building and assistance with business-to-business (B2B) contacts through market study tours and trade fair participation. For businesses likely to export in the more distant future, the agency would work to provide access to finance, training and market research.
The Zambia Development Agency has also worked on segmentation, assigning account managers to each segment to strengthen relationships with exporters and provide personalized support.
The Malawi Investment and Trade Centre has reviewed its core values and redesigned its performance appraisal process to ensure staff are results-oriented, with improved service delivery for exporters.
ITC will continue to nurture the network of institutions built through the MOPSE project and work with each of the agencies to help demonstrate results, gain credibility and justify the resources they need to better support internationalizing firms.
Looking ahead, ITC plans to apply the approach in other regions as part of its portfolio of services to help trade and investment support institutions perform at their best.