2021 1971 CBI 50 years CBI: looking back and looking forward Click on the buttons to discover our story Collaborated with more than 10,000 SMEs in 70 countries Extensive knowledge created with our experts Important stepsour partners took Development of CBI Celebrating past and current journeys with our importers Achievements we have reached together And many more important stories to come

50 years CBI: looking back and looking forward

This year, we celebrate CBI's 50th anniversary. Half a century! Since its initiation, CBI has contributed to economic and social development in many developing countries worldwide.

CBI has been active in more than 70 countries, supported more than 10,000 local companies, and published thousands of market studies during the past five decades. In its early years, CBI primarily focused on promoting export and bringing exporters and importers together. This has expanded to include technical assistance, marketing advice, corporate social responsibility and certifications.

Many challenges (such as climate change) and opportunities (such as digitalisation) have arisen over the years, consumer behaviour has changed, and international markets have shifted. CBI continues to adapt to these changes, but small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) remain its main target group. Now, as we focus on the global transition to sustainable and inclusive development, we aim to strengthen SMEs' economic, social, and environmental sustainability. Export remains an essential means to achieve sustainable economic growth in our partner countries.

We are grateful to all those who contributed to and supported the work of CBI. Especially we would like to thank all the SMEs, business support organisations, partners, importers, the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, experts and our staff for their trust. In this E-zine, we will look back and forward with them!

Click on the buttons to discover their visions, experiences and stories.

Best wishes,

Pauline Döll
Managing Director | Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries

Sometimes business is more personal

Times are changing in the apparel industry

The fashion industry is dealing with issues such as sustainability in the supply chain and fair working conditions. Mostafiz Uddin, a factory owner in Bangladesh, promotes a more inclusive, sustainable and fair approach to the industry. His mission is to raise awareness among Western buyers and consumers, and business owners in his home country.

Putting a vision into practice

Born and raised in Bangladesh, Mr Uddin is the Managing Director and CEO of Denim Expert Limited. He had a specific vision from the start. “I want to see a fair, ethical and sustainable apparel industry,” he explains. “Soon after I started working, I realised that I needed to build my own factory to put into practice what I had in mind.” In 2009, he opened the Denim Expert Limited factory. Unlike other clothes factories at the time, Mr Uddin’s factory met all the required safety standards.

Since then, upon request, Denim Expert has joined well-known organisations, like the Sustainable Apparel Coalition and the UNFCCC for Climate Change. The company recently launched its first circular fashion line. And Mr Uddin has invested in organising trade fairs and industry summits. Mr Uddin aims to change people’s perceptions of the fashion industry and promote more sustainable and fair practices.

Working with CBI to understand the European market

Between 2014 and 2017, Denim Expert was one of 28 businesses participating in CBI’s export coaching project. The goal was to help garment manufacturers in Bangladesh move up from the low end of the market to higher European Union (EU) market segments. “Working with CBI helped us better understand the consumer and the market,” says Mr Uddin. “CBI also taught us a lot about supply chain management and how to produce responsibly. We became aware of the innovations European buyers are looking for. This helped us develop new products for the EU market.”

Supporting change in the fashion industry

Mr Uddin believes that all the issues in the fashion industry are connected. “I always try to promote sustainability, innovation, transparency, fair wages, women in leadership positions, and equal opportunities,” he says. “I try to make people aware of the whole situation and look for solutions that focus on all these issues. People in this industry like to use buzzwords. But the reality is that there is no overall plan or holistic approach to these issues.”

For example, Mr Uddin is a strong advocate for more women in leadership positions. “This is part of a holistic approach,” he says. “Studies show that women are better at supporting gender equality issues. This is what the ready-made garment sector needs.” In 2018, 61% of the workers in the clothes industry were women. But only 16% were in management positions.

Consumers as part of the solution

Mr Uddin feels that buyers should also be part of the solution. “Many Westerners talk about safety, fair wages, women’s rights, and fair prices,” he says. “But if we want all these things for the workers, buyers should pay a fair price.” Consumers also need to understand their impact on the supply chain. “As a factory owner, I want to look after my workers. How can I do that if consumers do not want to pay the right price? People need to ask themselves: why is this product so cheap?”

“The market is changing; people are listening”

“Sometimes, the truth I tell is not welcome,” Mr Uddin admits. “But it does not matter to me. I will keep sharing my vision all over the world.” Mr Uddin adds that the biggest challenge has sometimes come from his own country. “10 years ago, people in Bangladesh did not want to hear what I had to say. Now, they realise that the market is changing. Business owners are listening to what I can teach them.” This is an important step forward. “The fashion world must work together to bring about changes that make it a fairer industry. And to make the world a better place to live in,” Mr Uddin concludes.

Entrepreneur in Guatemala uses her CBI training to help others

Hard work and determination are important for building a successful business. But sometimes, a little help can make things easier. This was the case for Judith Quevedo, owner of Ixin Quesal, a lime business in Guatemala. After facing many problems, Judith took part in a CBI export coaching Project. She shares with us how learning about the market and finding the right buyers made all the difference to her business. It also brought change to the women who work with her.

Creating jobs with Persian limes

Ixin Quesal is in Alto Verapaz, an area in Guatemala that used to focus on growing cardamom and coffee. These crops only provided work for short periods of the year. Judith Quevedo saw the need for more sources of income. So, she decided to use her business administration and marketing skills to invest in growing Persian limes. Ms Quevedo describes the impact her business has had on the region. “Ixin Quesal exports the fruit. We buy the limes from a local grower and process them at a rented packaging plant,” she explains. “Mostly women work at the packaging plant, and many are single mothers. This crop has brought a new source of income to the region. It helps these women earn money and provide an education for their children.”

Get the business started was not easy. “At the beginning, we only sold limes to the local market, but there was too much supply. Our nearest export market is the United States, but it imports limes from Mexico and Brazil,” says Ms Quevedo. “For this reason, we decided to focus on the European market. We attended our first Fruit Logistica trade fair in 2009. Then, in 2011 we sent our first exports to Poland.” These exports to Europe were not what Ms Quevedo had hoped for. The importers never paid for the fruit and, in the end, the company made a loss.

Compliance, commerce and certifications

Ms Quevedo persevered. In 2012, Ixin Quesal joined CBI’s Connecting Central America programme. One of the consultants, Arno van der Maden, explains what the training focused on. “For companies that want to reach the European market, 3 areas are crucial: compliance, commerce, and certifications. Ms Quevedo knew a lot about limes and about managing people, but she needed support in these areas,” he says. With CBI’s guidance and support, Ixin Quesal developed its own 4kg packaging concept. The company has also been working towards getting GLOBALG.A.P., GRASP and SMETA-ETI certifications.

As one of the few woman entrepreneurs in Guatemala, Ms Quevedo says the knowledge and support shared by CBI have made all the difference. “Overall, it was an amazing experience. My favourite part was when CBI took a group of us to Spain to learn about putting together a strategy, talking to buyers, and presenting at a trade fair.”

Then it was time to put the lessons learnt into practice. “CBI sponsored our stand at Fruit Logistica. It was a great way to apply what we had learnt,” she says. The export coaching project ended in 2016, and, since then, Ixin Quesal has exported 100% of its produce to the United Kingdom.

Growing more to help more people

The COVID-19 pandemic and hurricane ETA are 2 more challenges Ixin Quesal has recently overcome. Ms Quevedo says the business is still recovering, but she already has plans to expand. “The goal is to triple our production and also have our own packaging plant,” she explains. Her main goal remains the same as it has always been: helping people and other small businesses. “The past 2 years have been difficult for many businesses,” she says. “I hope my story will encourage others. There will be difficulties, but you have to pick yourself up and carry on. There are organisations like CBI who want to help. Their support can make all the difference. You just have to show that you are willing to put in the work.”

Together we can make a change

From 80 to 600 tonnes of fish a year: Growth for Peruvian trout fishers

After joining CBI’s export coaching project in 2015, Peruvian trout fishing group Consorcio Acuícola Junín grew fast. Production went from 80 to 600 tonnes of fish a year. Now, the group hopes to be ready for European export by the end of 2023. Consortium President Flavio Ventura Silva expresses, “Exporting to Europe would be the highlight of my career.”

Exporting to the European market

Starting export to a new market can be challenging. There is much to learn, even for the most enthusiastic entrepreneurs. Peruvian trout fishing group Consorcio Acuícola Junín joined CBI’s aquaculture coaching project between 2015 and 2018. This project gives small businesses in developing countries the tools and knowledge they need to enter the Europeaan market.

Exporting is still a few years away for Consorcio Acuícola Junín. But, they are determined to make the most of the wait. They use CBI’s training to stay ahead of the competition and remain the leading trout supplier in Peru as they work towards their long-term goal.

Trout fishing in the Peruvian Andes

Consorcio Acuícola Junín is a consortium (a group of businesses) of trout farmers. The consortium is in the Junín region of Peru in the Andes mountains, over 3,500 metres above sea level. The location is perfect for raising trout. “Our group includes several companies,” explains Consortium President Flavio Ventura Silva. “A reproduction and incubation centre, 3 on-growing centres, 1 processing plant, and 1 trout oil and flour production centre.”

Mr Ventura Silva says that the consortium’s motivation to improve has kept them ahead of the competition. “We sell our fish to the 4 biggest supermarkets in Peru,” he says. “We are leading the market, but we always look for ways to improve. That is how we have always worked, and 6 years ago, it is what led us to CBI.”

Growth during CBI’s aquaculture project

During CBI’s aquaculture project, the consortium received coaching and visited 2 important trade fairs in Europe. These included the Conxemar aquaculture trade fair in Spain and Seafood Expo Global in Belgium. CBI’s external consultant and sector expert, John van Herwijnen, remembers Consorcio Aquícola Junín and their enthusiasm. “They took every opportunity to learn and grow throughout the project,” he says. “When they went home and applied it to their business model, it helped them grow incredibly fast.” During the project, Consorcio Acuícola Junín’s production grew from 80 to 600 tonnes of fish a year.

Working towards international export

After joining the coaching project, businesses begin to connect with buyers and start exporting to Europe. For Consorcio Acuícola Junín, this goal is still a few years away. Mr Ventura Silva explains, “The amount of fish we process now is enough for the national market. To enter the European market, we need more production capacity. We also need the right certifications.”

The group is currently working on this. But the main challenge they face is not in their control: national export procedures. Mr van Herwijnen explains, “The political situation in Peru changes often. New ministers, new laws, new fishing policies. It affects the entire sector and makes it difficult to get products out of the country.” In 2021, a new government was voted in. Companies are waiting to see how this will affect business at a national and international level.

Exporting to Europe: The achievement of a lifetime

Despite the ever-changing situation, Mr Ventura Silva has a positive and inspiring outlook. He is hopeful that his group will export by 2023. They are already talking to buyers in the Netherlands and Belgium. He adds that he would love to see his life’s work completed: “It would be the highlight of my career,” he says. “But I am also satisfied with how far I have come. I will keep contributing for as long as I can. Still, I also see the value in leaving behind a project for the next generation.”

CBI and ITC enter ‘Decade of Action’ with Netherlands Trust Fund

One organisation CBI has worked with closely for many years is the International Trade Centre (ITC). Pamela Coke-Hamilton , Executive Director of ITC, explains how the 2 have complemented each other over the years. She also talks about the challenges and opportunities CBI and ITC face as we enter what the United Nations calls the ‘Decade of Action’.

The Netherlands Trust Fund

“CBI and ITC have enjoyed a longstanding relationship for several decades,” says Pamela. “17 years ago, we entered a new phase when we signed a partnership agreement to work on the Netherlands Trust Fund (NTF). The NTF is a series of 4-year projects. These aim to strengthen the competitiveness of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) across specific sectors in selected countries.” NTF4 ended in June 2021, and NTF5 will run between 2021 and 2025.

Pamela explains how cooperation between the organisations adds real value for the MSMEs they support. “Businesses in developing countries face many challenges. Market access is a major one,” she says. “At CBI and ITC, we focus on making MSMEs export-ready. Then we connect them to partners and clients. CBI focuses on the European market. And ITC looks at regional markets and South-South connections. CBI has a lot of experience in collecting market information. It also connects MSMEs to market partners, especially in the Netherlands. ITC engages governments and establishes private-public dialogue under the UN flag. This makes us very complementary.”

Building on each other’s work for more impact and efficiency

As part of NTF4, CBI and ITC identified country/sector combinations for their 4-year projects. These were cocoa in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, IT and IT-enabled services in Uganda and Senegal, and community-based tourism in Myanmar. “In Myanmar, we united to focus on digital marketing,” Pamela explains. “CBI operated at the national level with the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism. ITC operated at the regional level with local branches of the Ministry and SMEs. Building on each other’s work allowed us to have a greater impact and be more efficient. Hundreds of tourism workers received coaching in marketing, sustainability, management and Corporate Social Responsibility. Thanks to the focus on digital marketing, Myanmar also gained much more visibility on social media,” she adds.

Lisanne van Beek was a Programme Manager for West Africa at the time. She shares another example of the 2 organisations working together. “For the cocoa project, ITC carried out a value chain analysis,” she explains. “Based on that, we developed an export coaching programme.” Both organisations have similar areas of expertise. However, Lisanne says that working closely together made her more aware of their different ways of working. “CBI provides tailored technical assistance to SMEs based on their applications and our export audit,” she says. “ITC worked with a much larger group of beneficiaries. Combining both ways of working gave the project a broader scope. We addressed more issues, reached more SMEs, and engaged with more potential buyers and organisations.”

The Decade of Action

The United Nations announced a Decade of Action starting in 2020. “What this means is that we have until 2030 to reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),” explains Pamela. “It will be a continuation of the many years of hands-on action that CBI and ITC have already carried out.” With this in mind, ITC and CBI are already working on the NTF5 project. It focuses on the agricultural business, technology and tourism sectors. “We will focus on creating systemic change that benefits the MSMEs in the countries we work in. It will also be important to help SMEs become more resilient and shift towards more climate-friendly practices,” says Pamela.

“The years of learning from each other's experiences and building on each other's work have been fantastic,” Pamela states. “The different perspectives and experiences bring a lot of value to both of our organisations. And to the people we support. There is also fantastic chemistry between our teams,” she adds. “We look forward to continued collaboration. May we keep reinventing our organisations together to achieve impact at scale in the Decade of Action!”

Dutch importer Bakker Barendrecht sees long-term benefits of CBI’s work

Bakker Barendrecht is a Dutch fresh fruits and vegetables company and a strategic partner for supermarkets in the Netherlands, Belgium and Czechia. They have worked with a dedicated global network of growers for several decades. One of them is SCS International, a mango-growing cooperative in Mali, which participated in a CBI Expert Coaching Programme in 2012. Frank Brinkman, Sourcing Manager at Bakker Barendrecht, shares some of the changes he has seen at the cooperative over the years and explains their benefits for Bakker Barendrecht as a fresh fruit importer.

From no exports to 60 containers a year
Frank Brinkman, Sourcing Manager at Bakker Barendrecht in the Netherlands, explains that the Malian varieties of mangoes are a favourite among consumers. But, in 2007, no one was exporting them. “The biggest challenge for Malian producers was that the country does not have access to the sea,” he says. “We saw that the quality of the fruit was excellent, so together with the Dutch government and SCS International, we started a series of projects to help farmers to export.”

For these projects, Bakker Barendrecht provided the expertise, and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs offered financial support. Frank says, “Our agricultural department offered technical support, and we also sent a truck to Mali to help with transportation. The biggest development, however, was building a packaging plant. Meant to sort and pack the mangoes for shipping. The fruit travels by land to the Ivory Coast and by ship to Rotterdam, so proper packaging is essential.” Bakker Barendrecht received the first container of Malian mangoes in 2008. Now, they buy 60 containers during Mali’s harvest season.

Model mangoes
SCS International took part in CBI’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetables West Africa coaching programme in 2012. As a result of our coaching, the cooperative invested in several important projects. Frank shares an example of how the projects took SCS International to the next level. “One project was a model 50-hectare mango orchard,” he says. “Many of the farmers have small plots of land, with only a few trees. They did not have access to training on farming best practices. The purpose of the orchard is to model techniques like irrigation and to show farmers how to follow international standards. In the long-term, this will produce higher volumes of mangoes. For Bakker Barendrecht, it means we can continue to supply our customers with fresh mangoes that meet market standards.”

Strategic decisions that impact everyone
Frank says these long-term investments in their suppliers are a strategic decision that benefits the company and the farmers. He explains: “Bakker Barendrecht is a business, but we also want to go beyond that. We want to have a positive impact on growers and the environment. But we can’t do it alone. We also need the help of the suppliers we work with and organisations like CBI. CBI’s input will have positive long-term effects at SCS International. We have already benefited from this, and we look forward to seeing how the cooperative continues to grow.”

Chocolate brand Zotter is excited about working with farmers CBI has coached

Bringing together the right suppliers with the right buyers is part of the work CBI does. In the cocoa sector, more and more European brands are looking for farmers with the right certifications. Thomas Linshalm is the production manager for Zotter, a speciality chocolate brand in Austria. He has been working with participants from CBI’s export coaching projects for over 8 years. He says that having CBI as an intermediary makes his job much easier.

High-quality chocolate with an impact

Based in Austria, Zotter is widely recognised as one of the world’s best and most innovative chocolate brands. Their mission statement is ORGANIC+FAIR+BEAN-TO-BAR. Production Manager Thomas Linshalm explains what this means, “We only buy cocoa beans from farmers who have organic and fair trade certifications. They must also offer premium-quality, such as old and rare varieties. We aim to build long-lasting relationships directly with these cocoa farmers. We make sure the farmers receive much higher prices for their beans than the global average. If a partnership is successful, it means we can keep sourcing high-quality cocoa beans. And we can do this while also helping families and communities across Central America. CBI has been an excellent partner in this. Because they know what Zotter is looking for, they help introduce us to the right cooperatives.”

Understanding what the client wants

CBI’s external consultant in Central America, Jörn Berger, says that there are many opportunities for the region’s cocoa farmers. But, they must work hard to meet European requirements. “In Central America, farmers work in remote areas with complicated conditions,” he explains. “They often do not know about the quality of their beans or how to improve production. We coach farmers so that they understand their role in ensuring the right quality. And we help them take responsibility for finding solutions. We also support them in getting the right certifications and offer training in developing export marketing plans.”

One cooperative that recently benefited from CBI’s coaching was Rios de Agua Viva in Nicaragua. Alexander Gonzales is the general manager at the cooperative. He says, “Thanks to CBI, we implemented our own taste testing panel at the cooperative. It has helped us understand our product better, grow our production capacity and find new clients.” He adds, “Something else that made all the difference was attending the Chocoa 2020 trade fair in Amsterdam with CBI. We were already UTZ-certified. But by talking to buyers like Thomas, we realised that this was not enough. Alongside this certification, we need organic and fair trade certifications to help us attract interest from European buyers. CBI helped us understand what clients want.”

A close exporter-buyer relationship

Thomas says CBI’s involvement has made a huge difference. “It used to be much harder for Zotter to find the right partners,” he recalls. “We had to travel around Central America or meet them at trade fairs. Now, CBI lets me know if there is a new cooperative that might be a good match. Then, we invite them to our factory in Austria to get to know them and explain our criteria. That is the start of the relationship.”

Zotter usually starts by ordering 3 to 4 tonnes of cocoa beans from a new producer. If everything goes well, the company will then order an average of 12.5 tonnes a year. This is enough for Zotter to produce more than 12 tonnes of chocolate. Still, Thomas explains that it is about more than cocoa beans. Developing a close relationship with the exporters is very important to him. “Zotter imports cocoa from 15 countries and 15 different cooperatives. I am the link between the cocoa and Zotter. I travel to meet the farmers personally and try to understand their situation. Then, I explain our quality standards and assure them that if they produce good cocoa, we will buy it.”

“A grower that CBI introduces immediately has our attention”

Thomas has already worked with 6 cooperatives that CBI has coached. And he looks forward to meeting more. “CBI knows we are always looking for new cooperatives to work with. And if we are happy with the product, it will lead to a long-term partnership,” he explains. “As a buyer, working with CBI makes my job much easier. If CBI introduces a cooperative or producer, that partner immediately has our attention. I hope to continue our relationship for many years.”

Youth inclusion project helps keep Rwandan coffee sector alive

Rwanda has over 400,000 small-scale coffee growers. Most of these growers are ready to retire. But their children are not ready to take over the business. In 2018, CBI partnered with Agriterra to launch the Speciality Coffee Rwanda project. The goal of this project was to attract more young people to the coffee sector.

A new generation of coffee farmers

In Rwanda, the average coffee farmer is over 60 years old. Younger people should be taking over. But many of them find it difficult to enter the sector or have already found jobs elsewhere. In a few years, this could become a serious issue for Rwanda’s coffee industry. To help young people enter the Rwandan coffee sector, CBI partnered with Agriterra, a Dutch agriculture agency. Agriterra supports farmer-led businesses in developing economies with business development services. Jean Marie Ntakirutimana is a business advisor at Agriterra. She explains that most farmers will only hire young people for the harvest and sorting period in Rwanda. “We want to bring businesses together and show them the importance of involving young people in the value chain,” says Ms Ntakirutimana. “Through the Speciality Coffee Rwanda project, we have been able to offer more activities, maximise our impact, and carry out better follow-up.”

Listening is the first step

The first thing CBI and Agriterra did was organise a workshop. It brought together different age groups to discuss concerns, challenges, and possible solutions. Ms Ntakirutimana says, “The workshop made it clear that young people in Rwanda face 3 main challenges in the coffee value chain. These are access to land, access to finance and a negative perception of the agricultural sector.”

To help with access to land and finance, CBI and Agriterra launched a multimedia campaign. It promoted youth inclusion in the coffee sector. It also informed young people about the opportunities in the industry via success stories and possible solutions to challenges. The results were very positive. Parents made land available to 30 young people. They then planted 2,500 coffee trees. Also, a local cooperative provided 4 hectares of land to 360 young coffee farmers.

Other business opportunities

Growing sustainable coffee takes time. The trees take 3 years to produce their first harvest. During this time, young farmers need to have something else to work on. To help with this, CBI partnered with 8 coffee processors to support business opportunities that also benefit the coffee industry. One example is animal rearing. This provides organic manure to fertilise coffee plants. With support from the coffee processors, 25 young people have now started a business rearing rabbits. Another 50 young people are raising chickens.

First exports for youth-owned coffee brand

Fiacre Dushimiyimana is a member of the Abakundakawa Rushashi cooperative. He shares how he and his co-workers have benefited from this CBI project. “Our goal is to become the first youth group in the country that exports coffee internationally under the brand name Ishema Youth Coffee. It will be the first time in history that our country has exported sustainable coffee from a youth-owned brand.”

Mr Dushimiyamana adds that the cooperative has seen many positive results from taking part in CBI’s activities. “We have grown to 400 members and, in collaboration with the cooperative, youths have already planted around 30,000 new coffee trees,” he says. “We are lucky to have the support of CBI and Agriterra. Training future coffee farmers is crucial. It is the only way to keep Rwanda’s coffee sector alive.”

More information

Find out more about the Speciality Coffee Rwanda project.

Export as a way to create sustainable change

International markets have changed a lot since the Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries (CBI) started its mission in 1971. CBI has continuously updated its strategies to adapt to the latest circumstances. But the goal has always been the same: to strengthen small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in developing countries. So, how has CBI’s mission developed in the last 50 years? And what effect has this had on the people working at CBI?

CBI’s starting point

SMEs have always been the starting point. “SMEs are vital to economies,” says managing director Pauline Döll. “They have a direct influence on so many people’s daily lives.” That is why strengthening the position of SMEs is a good step towards improving the living conditions in the countries CBI works with. Until now, CBI used to support SMEs by helping them increase their export as much as possible.

“In the 80s, we only looked at export to the Netherlands,” says Programme Manager Hugo Verhoeven. Hugo has been working for CBI since 1989. “But, with a few extra investments, we were able to introduce SMEs to a bigger audience.” CBI’s strategy quickly adapted to include the European Union (EU) as a sales market. SMEs working with CBI were able to present themselves at trade shows across the continent. Another important part of CBI’s strategy was providing information. “Exporting to Europe was very complicated. And information about exporting to European markets was hard to find,” says Hugo. “That is why we published export books and a news bulletin that was distributed in over 100 countries.”

Making valuable connections

The goal of CBI’s strategy was to help entrepreneurs become independent. During CBI projects, CBI staff often formed valuable connections with participants. “We provide information and advice, but they have to implement it themselves,” says Melanie van de Baaren-Haga. Melanie has been a programme manager for CBI since 2008. “After a 5-year project, you can tell that the participants have grown so much. I once worked with an entrepreneur from India. He told me that he would have never made it this far without our help. He still calls me every year to catch up. Those kinds of connections are very meaningful.”

Shifting strategy

With the new 2021-2025 strategy, CBI’s mission has shifted from increasing export to contributing to inclusive and sustainable economies. CBI will do this by promoting Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). “Export is still a way to strengthen economies, but we now also look at how we can contribute at a systemic level,” says Pauline. “Change and innovation can only work if you include the environment of an enterprise. This means looking at the government, legal framework, NGOs and financing solutions in the SME’s country. To become sustainable, everyone needs to do their part at the different stages.”

CBI is now positioning itself in this environment. CBI works with companies that often cannot afford to invest for a decade. “That is why we focus on the demand that already exists in Europe,” says Pauline. “We show companies the opportunities that come with sustainability and demonstrate its importance. The message is simple: If you do not take sustainability into account, you will not reach your export potential. This business-minded approach will help us reach our goals and achieve long-term change.”

Creating impact at a systemic level

Part of the new CBI strategy involves dealing with problems at the systemic level. This means addressing primary causes instead of symptoms. “More and more often, we try to work from a local context. Our project teams include an increasing number of local experts,” says CSR advisor Lisanne van Beek. Lisanne joined CBI in 2013.

For a new project in Kenya, CBI aims to improve the economic position of women. “In the project design phase, we involved different types of stakeholders. For example, we involved local women’s business associations, women entrepreneurs, financial institutions, NGOs, and the Kenyan Chamber of Commerce and the Ministry of Public Service and Gender. Including many stakeholders helps us to better understand the system. It also helps us see where we can get involved to create the most impact.”

We are human first

Sustainability, independence, and gender equality are important values within the organisation. “When I started at CBI, I received a lot of guidance. But at the same time, I had plenty of space to make my own choices,” says AMID-trainee Rikke van der Veen. “The work environment is very open, and CBI encourages learning. As a government organisation, you have to adapt to changing circumstances to stay relevant.”

You can also see the importance of gender equality and decent working conditions at CBI. “The people here pay attention to how you feel,” says Lisanne. “How you feel influences how you work. Instead of focusing on what works well, you can discuss challenges and lessons learnt. This is in line with the new way of working in our projects. We take a flexible approach, learn by doing, and make adjustments when needed.”

Having an exchange

“People at CBI love experimenting with ideas and using trends in their work,” says Pauline. “If something is difficult, it means you have an opportunity to learn. It is important to us that everything can be shared, including emotions.”

“Honest communication is everything,” Pauline continues. “You are not just having a conversation; you are having an exchange. This is true whether you are talking with colleagues or international partners.” This is a principle that has not changed over the last 50 years. And we hope to continue to have honest conversations for many years to come.

Meet one of our local experts, Phoebe Owuor

Local experts play an important role in CBI’s projects. Their networks and knowledge of local policies and culture are extremely valuable. Phoebe Owuor, from Eldoret in Kenya, started working with CBI 30 years ago. She shares her experience working as a local and external expert.

How does a woman from Kenya start working with the Dutch Centre for the Promotion of Imports?

“I first met CBI in June 1991 during a joint project with the Kenyan Ministry of Trade. They were looking for women entrepreneurs to go into export. As part of the project, I went to Rotterdam for a 4-week training course at the World Trade Centre. I enjoyed it so much that, on the final night, I got up in front of everyone and announced that one day I would come back to that same building as a coach. Everyone called me a dreamer. But my vision was clear: I wanted to share my knowledge on international trade.

I carried on studying and, in 1998, I started my own consultancy business in Kenya. In 2004, I worked with CBI again. This time, I took part in a one-year capacity building project to become a CBI consultant. When the project was over, CBI decided to train another group. I immediately volunteered to help so that I could learn on the job.. I made my dream of returning as a coach come true!”

You now work as a local and external expert for CBI. These roles involve different tasks. What makes you ideal for both?

“Part of my role is to train small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and business support organisations (BSO) on export development. I also develop and strengthen institutes that support export and trade within countries. What makes me an ideal partner for CBI is my knowledge of African countries and their cultures and my experience in international trade development. Also, I have a large network thanks to my work with development agencies and government ministries at local and international levels. The fact that I speak fluent English and Swahili is another advantage. But most important are my soft skills and my approach to sensitive and complex issues.”

As an external expert, you work on projects in various East African countries. Are there any that stand out?

“A recent project I managed focused on adding value to Kenyan tea. My role was to help develop an environment to put value-added teas on the market. I also coordinated the work of the other consultants and experts involved.

This project stands out because of the fundamental changes it brought to the Kenyan tea sector. 8 factories decided to invest in packaging Kenyan tea at its origin. This added value to their product and increased their profits. Most of the factories embraced Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes. Simple changes to the working conditions also had a huge impact on women in the tea sector. They now work fewer hours and have access to better facilities such as toilets.”

How has your work with CBI influenced you as a person?

“It has definitely shaped me. I have improved my skills, gained knowledge, and grown as a consultant and coach. Working with CBI has created opportunities for me and taught me to pursue excellence in my work. CBI has also benefited those around me. This job has helped me provide for my family and community. My children went to good schools and I helped other children get an education. I also helped provide fresh water for my community by having a borehole drilled in Eldoret. And I sponsor local housing projects, too.

I still think that passing on knowledge is the greatest part of my work. I already have my eye on potential young consultants. I mentor and sponsor them so that they can take courses. Besides my work on CBI contracts, I soon hope to start an academy for young people in Kenya.”

Have there been any challenges along the way?

“Yes, especially in the beginning. I had to sacrifice a lot to take part in the training sessions. My children were young, and I often had to be away from home. Nowadays, my role includes bridging the gaps between cultures. Being the middle person is not always easy. But the hardest part is seeing people miss out on opportunities. CBI’s projects offer so much information and chances for growth. When you know the impact they can have, it is difficult to see people choose not to make the most of that.”

This year marks 30 years since you started working with CBI. What is next?

“In the coming years, CBI will expand its network of external experts. Focus areas include decent work, gender, youth, digitisation, and the environmental aspects of trade. The knowledge and participation of local experts are essential to creating inclusive and sustainable economies. So, what is next for me? Well, I want to keep learning and teaching, and I hope to continue doing so alongside CBI.”

The impact of NTFIV project in Uganda

Birgitta Tazelaar, Deputy Director-General of International Cooperation, on CBI’s 50th anniversary:

“With 50 years of experience, CBI is entering a new chapter – just like the world in which it operates”

Birgitta Tazelaar is the Deputy Director-General of International Cooperation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Her Ministry initiated CBI in 1971. For our 50th anniversary, she looks back at the impact its work has had and reflects on current trends in development cooperation.

A more sustainable world with less poverty and inequality

“I know I am lucky to have been born in a wealthy country with so many opportunities,” says Birgitta. “I see it as a duty and a privilege to stand up for less fortunate people around the world. My dream is to see a more sustainable world with less poverty and inequality.” Birgitta’s dream is also what CBI aims for in the work it does. “Ensuring that prosperity is sustainable and fairly distributed is an essential part of preventing conflict and promoting stability worldwide,” she notes.

“The world needs more decent jobs”

“CBI’s strength is its focus on market access as a means for development,” Birgitta says. “CBI’s experts look at the supply chain and ask themselves, “How can we help businesses in developing countries reach the European market? How can we connect European importers with these businesses?” Through CBI’s interventions, businesses grow, allowing the creation of more decent jobs.” And more jobs are what the world needs right now, she adds. “In sub-Saharan Africa, more than 12 million young people join the workforce every year. At the same time, only 3 million formal jobs become available in this region. High numbers of unemployment affect individuals, families, communities, and countries. What also makes CBI's work so important is that when businesses do well, they reinvest revenues in their country’s economy. Also, CBI helps these entrepreneurs invest in areas such as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), fair trade, sustainability and gender equality,” she explains.

Bridging the gaps

Birgitta highlights another important part of CBI’s work: collecting and sharing market information. “One of the biggest barriers small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in developing countries have when they want to export is that they do not have access to high-quality market information. Export is a complex and challenging process. Look at the label on a chocolate bar and the list of ingredients. As consumers, we are not aware of all the production, packaging, logistics, and import laws and regulations the producers of cocoa, sugar, and nuts have to meet to get their products to Europe. CBI’s detailed database of market studies bridges that gap.”

A special focus on women and young people

Supporting women and girls has a central position in the Netherlands’ International Cooperation policy and CBI. Gender equality, women’s rights and access to education are topics Birgitta is passionate about. “Empowering women entrepreneurs has the potential to create jobs, increase incomes, help thousands of households out of poverty, and lead to greater economic and social transformation. Aside from the moral aspect, it makes good business sense. Research shows that income gained by women is reinvested in their children. So, investing in women is investing in the future.”

“Empowering women entrepreneurs has the potential to create jobs, increase incomes, help thousands of households out of poverty, and lead to greater economic and social transformation. Investing in women is investing in the future.”

- Birgitta Tazelaar -

The same applies to young people. In many countries, it is hard for them to get the education and resources necessary to start a business. An example is the coffee sector in Rwanda. Many farmers there are ready to retire, while their children are not prepared to take over. In 2018, CBI launched the Speciality Coffee Rwanda project to attract more young people to the coffee sector. Many business achievements resulted from this project, including the first youth-owned brand in Rwanda’s history to export sustainable coffee.

Widespread impact through the supply chain

Birgitta explains that interventions by CBI are likely to have a broad and long-lasting impact. “In developing countries, not only businesses benefit, but also employees. This includes women, young people, and business support organisations (BSOs). CBI's latest strategy focuses on sector-wide development. I am pleased that this strategy contributes to more than individual businesses only. Rather than creating islands of perfection in a sea of misery, CBI works towards creating sustainable business environments with structures and policies that support sustainable economic growth. In the long-term, CBI aims to help many more people than those who have taken part in an export coaching project.”

“Rather than creating islands of perfection in a sea of misery, CBI works towards creating sustainable business environments that support sustainable economic growth.”

- Birgitta Tazelaar –

Advantages for importers: Trust and supply

Beyond that, she says, importers and consumers in Europe also benefit, “One advantage is continuous supply. As consumers, we are used to buying everything all year round. By connecting with more exporters who are prepared to send their products to Europe, importers can meet that demand more easily.”

Another advantage for European buyers of working with CBI-trained exporters is partnering with businesses with the required certifications. “More and more consumers are holding companies accountable in areas such as sustainability, environment, living wage, fair trade and transparent supply chains. Importers working with CBI-coached suppliers can be confident that their business partner meets the market standards and is prepared to export to the European Union,” she explains.

Message for Dutch and international entrepreneurs

To make the most of these many advantages, Birgitta encourages Dutch importers to partner with businesses that have taken part in a CBI project. “It is not just a business opportunity. You have a chance to do good: to contribute to sustainable supply chains, more jobs, and more equal opportunities. Be entrepreneurial; try something new!”

She also encourages SMEs in developing countries to make the most of CBI’s support. “The European market is complex. But it also offers many opportunities. Organisations like CBI are sharing the best ways to access it. So, I say, “Go for it! It can only benefit your business”.”

“The European market is complex. But it also offers many opportunities. Organisations like CBI are sharing the best ways to access it.”

- Birgitta Tazelaar -

A message for CBI

In closing, Birgitta says, “With 50 years of experience, CBI is moving into a new chapter. The new course for sector transformation is challenging, but it can also have a lot of impact. In the meantime, CBI can build upon its proven added value of increasing the capacity of exporters in developing countries. I hope CBI continues to rely on its strengths and finds new ways to help the people they work with in cooperation with other partners. Personally, I have become a fan of CBI’s work. I look forward to continuing our partnership for a more sustainable world with less poverty and inequality.”

From aid to trade: Towards a confident Indonesia

Since the 1990s, Indonesia has become a middle-income country. And the relationship between Indonesia and the Netherlands has shifted from aid to trade. Over the years, CBI has worked intensively with Indonesian companies, and these companies have played an essential role in Indonesia’s development. Dutch ambassador in Indonesia Lambert Grijns remarks, “Speaking of the Indonesian economy is speaking of SMEs.”

From the satay seller on the corner of the street in Jakarta, to the organic food suppliers working with female-owned social enterprise Aliet Green: micro, small and medium enterprises are essential to Indonesia. These businesses support around 60% of the Indonesian economy and play a significant role in its economic development. “Indonesia has become an increasingly self-assured middle-income country with a well-educated population. I am convinced that CBI has played a small but important role in its development,” states Ambassador Lambert Grijns.

CBI focuses on small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that want to grow and start exporting their products to foreign markets. It is not surprising that CBI’s role in the country's economic development was relatively small, as the country is huge. It has a population of over 273 million people! “Nevertheless, the kind of work CBI does is essential for the development of a mature economy,” says Lambert.

CBI activities in Indonesia

CBI currently has 2 projects in Indonesia. These are the export coaching project on home decoration and the export coaching project on natural ingredients. These follow a range of previous projects, local expert Dika Rinakuki recalls. Dika has been working with CBI since 2008. “I started working closely with CBI in 2012 as their local expert for a food ingredients project.” Other CBI projects over the years have focused on metalworking, fishery products, sustainable tourism. There was also a previous project on home decoration.

In 2018, CBI carried out a value chain analysis to prepare for new projects. This resulted in the 2 current projects. These projects started recruiting companies in 2019. Right now, CBI is preparing the participating companies for export to the European Union. “After that, the Market Entry phase starts,” says Dika. “Together with the companies, we look at the best possible market entry strategy and activities to enter the European market. The CBI project is tailored to each company, so we follow its pace. Some companies might be ready to enter the market in 2022; others might wait until 2023.”

Stimulating export

The Indonesian government is actively stimulating SMEs to export, especially after the pandemic. But not all SMEs can or want to export; consider the satay seller in Jakarta. More importantly, not all SMEs are ready to export. That is why CBI’s work is still very important.

“Our Ministry of Trade has very ambitious export targets,” says Lucas Rahmidin. He is part of the economic team at the Dutch embassy in Indonesia. “But the companies that are pushed to export to foreign markets need to be able to maintain the quality of their products.”

That is why CBI projects prepare companies well. Dika explains, “We work with the companies from the start to prepare them before they enter the export market. This ensures that the companies are actually ready to scale up their production.” After a CBI project ends, the companies are on their own. “Almost all of the companies that have taken part in the CBI projects continue to do well on the global market. This is something I am proud of.”

From aid to trade

The role of the Netherlands and its relationship with Indonesia has drastically changed. As its previous coloniser, the Netherlands has done its best to provide development aid and cooperation to Indonesia since its independence in 1949.

Now, the relationship between the Netherlands and Indonesia is much more equal. Indonesia uses the Netherlands as a hub for trade on the European market. And the Netherlands is one of the biggest investors in the Indonesian economy. There has been a definite switch from aid to trade. Indonesia prefers access to the European trade market over financial aid. So, CBI projects are very welcome.

Economic development

SMEs have a special position within the Indonesian economy; specific policies protect them. And when Indonesia starts its G20 presidency in December 2021, one of its priorities will be an inclusive recovery from the pandemic. This is something SMEs need to be a part of.

Heading the G20 is a very prestigious role. It reflects how much confidence Indonesia has gained and how much bigger its relevance has become globally. Since the 1990s, Indonesia has become a middle-income country. It has even surpassed the Netherlands in the ranking of biggest economies in the world.

It was not always like that. Indonesia has been a development cooperation country for a long time. Ambassador Grijns grew up in Indonesia in the 1960s. He remembers how poor the country was, “I remember there was a time we were suddenly out of rice. For a country that depends on rice for 3 meals a day, that is quite extreme. The economy was so fragile that there was no rice left.”

The middle-income trap

Indonesia is now at risk of what is called the middle-income trap. Because it has gone from lower to middle-income, it might lose a lot of the financial aid it previously received. This means it must continue growing on its own. This is a difficult transition. The current CBI projects will finish in 2024. But, “countries outside the European Union will always need a friend on the inside to stay informed on regulations and keep connections to the trade market,” says Lambert.

Indonesians are generally very flexible and good with technology, 2 traits that will help the country grow even more. “The Indonesians we work with very easily adapted to the circumstances the pandemic created,” says Marije Klomp, Programme Manager at CBI. “They had digital conferencing up and running much faster than we did in the Netherlands,” Lambert adds.

Capacity building and beyond

Indonesia has come so far that it can now invest in its own capacity building. In the home decorations project, CBI works with local partners to implement the CBI project and methods. This way, local experts can take over and continue the support CBI now gives companies after the project finishes in 2024.

Lambert responds, “I love to see the growth in confidence here. I see a younger generation that is capable and unafraid to express their opinion, in excellent English no less. That is the most visible change I have noticed. There is this well-educated, young urban upper class that can confidently lead the country forward.”

Meanwhile, Indonesia will take global centre stage with the G20 presidency in December 2021. Its focus on SMEs is clearly based on its national situation. It is time for Indonesia to project that agenda and their confidence onto the world stage.

Testimonial Aliet Green

One former company that participated in a CBI project is Aliet Green. Aliet Green is a female-owned social enterprise. It is an organic food producer that works closely with over 1,000 smallholder farmers (90% women and less than 1% farmers with a disability). Aliet Green does not work with organic food suppliers; it is an organic food producer. The company uses sustainable farming principles and internationally recognised standards. Examples include Organic, Fair for Life and BRC Global as food safety standards.

Aliet Green was introduced to a CBI export coaching project in 2013 at the leading organic exhibition in Germany. Aliet Green’s Lastiana says, “CBI provided us with an extensive coaching programme on marketing, sales and risk management for to export to the European market. CBI also helped us explore opportunities to become a successful organic speciality product exporter. We have improved a lot since we first got involved in CBI’s export coaching project.” The UN Food System Summit selected Aliet Green as one of the best small businesses.

Turning an export coaching project into a legacy

In South Africa, there is plenty of inspiration and raw material for beautiful fabrics and furniture. To help businesses in the home decoration and home textiles sector export to Europe, CBI launched the 5-year Home Decoration and Home Textiles South Africa project in 2013. During the project, we partnered with the Craft + Design Institute (CDI), a not-for-profit organisation that helps local businesses. Since 2013, the partnership has grown and evolved into something special.

Strengthening a sector through partnership

Our mission has always been to work with local partners to strengthen a sector. Before launching our Home Decoration and Home Textiles South Africa project, we looked for local organisations that already worked in the sector. Our search led us to CDI. Specifically, to CEO Erica Elk and Market Development Programme Manager Fran Stewart.

“Before the project began, we had several strategic discussions,” Ms Stewart recalls. “What excited us about working with CBI was the idea of combining our strengths. We had already helped businesses get ready to export. But this was not in a structured way. Partnering with CBI meant working through a well-structured five-year programme we could all learn from.”

The legacy project

CBI has been partners with CDI for many years, and we have carried out many activities. One of the most significant was the ‘legacy project’. Many businesses were asking for help with export development. So, early on in our project, we decided that once the original coaching project was over, we would adapt the content and structure and give ownership to CDI. This would allow more businesses to benefit from the export coaching. “This is one of the things I particularly enjoyed about working with CBI,” says Ms Elk. “There was a strategy for us to take over ownership of the project.”

Solly Levy is a consultant for CBI. He explains how CBI modified the project after 2018 and re-branded it as NEXT. “We took the best parts of the CBI project and tailored them to specific local conditions. It is now a fast-track export coaching programme that takes around 15 new companies to market each year,” he says. “It also includes a local trade exhibition, presenting the 15 new companies and the original 22.” Ms Stewart adds, “Entering the market through big trade fairs can be difficult. So, the idea is to use this local trade fair as a step to international markets.”

A strong sector community

10 years ago, the South African home decoration and textiles sector was divided. “Now, things have changed. We want to maintain the unity that has come out of this project,” says Ms Elk. “Through this project, participants have built a strong community. There is good communication, and we often have project alumni come in to share their experience with new participants,” she adds. The new sense of community has led to business improvements. For example, design partnerships between brands, better recognition on international markets and a higher turnover, meaning a more stable income for many workers.

Overcoming the challenges of COVID-19

COVID-19 created a challenge. But it also forced positive growth. “With CBI’s support, we are looking at how to put the educational parts of the project on LEARN, our online learning platform,” says Ms Stewart. “Sharing information to help local businesses has been CBI’s legacy for many years. We want to carry on that legacy. We want to offer more businesses the opportunity to grow in South Africa and abroad.”

The project in numbers:

  • Average job increase between 2014 and 2017: 18%
  • Companies that have participated in NEXT: 39
  • Number of new business contacts: 3,500

Meet some of the participants

Minima offers a South African-made range of digitally-crafted wooden lighting and furniture. This company took part in the original CBI project. Thanks to advice from CBI experts, It adjusted its designs to include flat-pack options. This significantly reduced the cost of transport to Europe and meant minima could offer more competitive prices, as well as innovative new designs.

The Wren Design focuses on the innovative use of recycled and natural materials. Wren is most well-known for its bags made out of paper that is treated to make it water-resistant. The treatment results in products that are both durable and functional. The company’s 2021 collection includes prints from another project participant: Skinny laMinx.

CBI and ProColombia: 40 years of export growth

Partnerships with local organisations have always been an important part of CBI’s vision. In Colombia, we worked for over 40 years with the government agency ProColombia. Our journey together started with an export coaching project for local businesses. Then, we created a tailored development programme for ProColombia. In 2018, we ended our collaboration after a successful multi-sector project for Colombian export businesses. Although we are no longer present in Colombia, you can still see our impact in ProColombia's work.

A long-term partnership

ProColombia promotes non-traditional export, tourism, and foreign investment for Colombia. They have been our local partner for over 40 years. At first, we supported Colombian companies entering the EU market through our export coaching projects. In 2008, we started offering development projects for Business Support Organisations (BSO) like ProColombia. Erik Plaisier was a CBI programme manager at the time. He explains that ProColombia was one of the most professional BSOs in the field. “We developed a programme tailored to their specific needs and possibilities,” Mr Plaisier says. “We introduced a new methodology and new training for ProColombia’s staff. This helped ProColombia support its clients much more strategically.”

During this period, We started to develop another type of project: Integrated Country Projects. In Colombia, instead of targeting a single sector, we focused on 7 sectors with a lot of export potential. These included:

  • Speciality roasted coffee;
  • IT outsourcing;
  • Garments;
  • Natural ingredients for food;
  • Natural ingredients for cosmetics;
  • Tropical flowers;
  • Foliage and hydrangeas; and
  • Tropical and exotic fresh fruit.

This project ended in 2018. It also marked the end of our work in Colombia. “The country’s exports have increased significantly, and the economy has become much stronger,” recalls Mr Plaisier. After a partnership that lasted over 20 years, it was time for us to say goodbye.

Transforming businesses with training

To this day, ProColombia continues to use our methodology. Shirley Gómez Ruiz, Exports and Internationalisation Manager at ProColombia, explains that her department is a direct result of our training. “We used to outsource a lot of the coaching work,” she says. “But it meant ProColombia was losing out on knowledge.” She recalls a couple of CBI's main lessons: how to structure a coaching plan and how to prepare businesses for trade shows. “Training our staff to do these things helped us grow and become stronger. Now, I have 30 people in my department who have all learned to work with CBI’s methodology,” she says.

Ms Gómez Ruiz adds that the most important element of CBI’s methodology was the ‘gap analysis’. “ProColombia was already coaching businesses for export,” she explains. “CBI helped us to identify the gaps in our approach. Now, we apply the same analysis to every business we support.”

Another area in which ProColombia does well is exploratory missions. Ms Gómez Ruiz says, “Something we also learnt from CBI is how to help companies completely adapt to the target market. For this, we take them to the market and completely immerse them in it. Our biggest mission so far was with 80 companies to the United States. I do not think CBI ever expected us to work with such large groups, but they were definitely impressed with us!”

Advice for other BSOs

Olga Lucía Perez, Cooperation and Agreement Director at ProColombia, sums up the partnership well. “ProColombia definitely achieved CBI’s goal of multiplying information,” she says. “Many of our people benefitted from the training. Most importantly, they were trained to pass their knowledge on to others.” Ms Perez encourages other BSOs to make the most of similar projects. She says, “I would urge other organisations to be assertive. Make sure all the knowledge and experience CBI’s experts share is incorporated into your organisation. Then, use those tools and be innovative with them. You will be amazed at the impact it has on the businesses you support and on your country’s economy.”

A timeline of our partnership

  • 1981: CBI organised a seminar called ‘The Flying Carpet’ for 60 businesses from 20 countries. Several Colombian home textiles manufacturers took part.
  • 1995: CBI and ProColombia co-produced their first seminar together.
  • 1996: CBI and ProColombia signed their first formal partnership agreement to promote Colombian exports.
  • 2007 – 2013: The BSO development years. CBI designed a development programme to help ProColombia improve its services. The programme lasted from 2010 to 2013.
  • 2014 – 2018: A new way of working: CBI developed an Integrated Country Project for Colombia. It targeted 7 sectors that had great potential for export to the European market.
  • 2018: The partnership between CBI and ProColombia officially came to an end.

3 organisations, 1 common goal: Sharing knowledge to benefit exporters

Dick de Man is the former CBI director. In 2010, he set up a network of governmental organisations that promote exports from developing countries. Today, CBI works with 9 other organisations as part of the Trade Related Instruments Connected (TRIC) partnership. 2 of CBI’s closest partners have been the Swiss Import Promotion Programme (SIPPO) and the German Import Promotion Desk (IPD). The organisations meet regularly to share market information, best practices, visions for the future.

It takes a network to gather market intelligence

SIPPO was one of the first organisations Dick approached. Programme Director Fabienne-Alexia Müller says, “At the time, both organisations had projects in the same countries and sectors. We attended the same trade fairs, and there was a friendly competition around who would take on which challenge.” Both organisations were always looking for ways to collaborate. In 2010, they signed a partnership agreement to collaborate more closely on developing market intelligence. Later, the TRIC network was the perfect opportunity to bring more trade promotion partners together.

Head of IPD Dr Julia Bellinghausen explains that IPD’s first cooperation with CBI was at trade fairs. “In 2013, we were a startup with 3 to 4 people. We were not working directly with businesses yet. But our goal was to show that the export development model worked. CBI’s input was crucial for this.” The German organisation has grown since then and continues to work closely with CBI. “As well as supporting exporters, IPD works directly with importers. We often put CBI in contact with German buyers for the businesses they support,” says Julia. “Something else we collaborate on is developing product factsheets with market information. We have a set structure and format, and if there are updates to the factsheets, we share that information.”

Different focuses still benefit the same people

Each organisation has a different focus, but Julia explains that there are many joint interests. “Because we work with similar groups, like exporters and BSOs, it is helpful to be in agreement and set common standards.” Alexia adds, “Trade parameters are shifting. For example, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we had an intense exchange with TRIC members on how to deal with the pandemic. It was very valuable and helped us all support the people we work with during these difficult times.”

Another important shared project was the Trade Promotion Collaboration for the Trade Promotion Academy (TPA). “The TPA was developed together with the International Trade Centre under SIPPO’s leadership. It is an e-learning platform that offers export promotion and market access knowledge,” Alexia explains. “CBI and IPD collaborated to create the content for the e-learning modules. The courses are a way for BSOs to better support their businesses, help them expand their market presence, and get a stronger position in export markets. The knowledge we have brought together is extremely valuable.”

The impact is greater when we work together

On the topic of future collaborations, Julia says, “I hope we can continue to identify topics where we can work together. As each organisation grows, not everyone is aware of our history and partnership. It is important that everyone understands it. That way, we can discuss things without bureaucracy getting in the way and make sure we are not wasting any efforts.” Alexia adds, “We must all be clear on where we are going and where we need to take trade development. In a changing world, joining forces is crucial. At times, it can make moving forward slower, but in the end, it makes progress steadier and the impact greater.”