This time of year is an opportunity to reflect on what has been and what might be, IOE&IT Director General Marco Forgione writes.
When I started at the Institute of Export & International Trade (IOE&IT) back in January 2020 nobody could have foreseen all the challenges we would face. Just a few short weeks after taking up the role of Director General, the world was forced into lockdown as coronavirus spread its tentacles across the globe.
EU trade deal
On Christmas Eve last year, the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement was announced. I’m pleased to say the dedicated IOE&IT was one of the first to respond to the news. We launched a webinar in the first week of January explaining the details of the agreement, attracting more than 3,000 attendees.
As an organisation we faced these twin challenges head on and have continued to support our membership, delivering vital training, qualifications and consultations. We have also responded to the changing needs and requirements of members and the wider business and trader community.
In the beginning
When I walked through the doors of Export House 23 months ago, we were a team of 12 dedicated people working out of our Peterborough HQ, now we have 120 team members servicing our members and delivering the highest level of support for the importing and exporting community.
We are ambitious and saw the opportunity that we had. In times of crisis you have two options, innovate, or dissipate, and we chose the former. We took our courses online and in the past 12 months have taught over 11,000 students.
Membership numbers up
Our in-person events ground to a halt and we lost that vital face-to-face contact with our membership. However we have worked hard on our engagement strategies and increased our membership by 70%.
We looked at services that were vital to keep businesses trading and informed: our relaunched helpline has seen close to a 400% increase in enquires. We keep abreast of all changes brought in by the government and have delivered regular webinars reaching an audience of over 20,000.
We took on new projects such as DTS, ESS, Scottish Exporters’ Helpline and probably most importantly the Trader Support Service to keep trade moving between GB and Northern Ireland.
This is not just a list of achievements, it is a statement of the dedication and commitment of our world-leading team.
It's a team that combined, represents more than 2,500 years of international trade experience.
I want to take the opportunity to pay tribute to the outstanding team we have assembled here at the IOE&IT and the work they have been doing.
If I could pick just one more highlight, I would think back to the start of October when we held our graduation ceremony in London (see pictures, below).
Our first in-person event in nearly two years and my first event as Director General. It was my opportunity to see some of our learner’s face-to-face and celebrate with them their achievements and understand the impact taking a course with the IOE&IT has had on their career and professional development.
Around 150 of our graduates from 2019/20 and 2020/21 attended the event. We assembled a diverse group of individuals, not just diverse in ethnicity or nationality, although 31 nations were represented on the night. But diverse in the industries in which they work and the business they conduct.
I am also extremely proud of the way in which the IOE&IT team has committed to the Institute’s charitable objectives, supporting projects in Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Trinidad & Tobago as well as projects with Australia and New Zealand.
We launched a free programme to support those who were on furlough or were unemployed so they can re-skill to work in international trade – a project now being extended to support refugees.
In September I joined a group of IOE&IT team members to cycle from our Peterborough HQ to the Institute’s new London office raising funds for Afghan refugees (see picture below: in November we presented a cheque for nearly £6,000 to Peterborough-based charity Care Zone, which supports Afghan and Syrian Refugee resettlement).
The past year has reaffirmed my long-held belief that international trade has the power to transform lives and communities, it broadens understanding and as such is a force for good in the world.
The IOE&IT still has so much to do. We have a once-in-a-generation chance to shape the way the United Kingdom trades with the rest of the world, we have the opportunity to help business grow and take advantage of new markets, we have a team with the knowledge, expertise, vision and drive to help our nation fulfil its potential and play its role internationally.
Whatever the challenges of 2022, we will embrace them. Most importantly we will continue to empower organisations and equip individuals with the expertise to trade effectively, sustainability and competitively.
All that is left for me to do is wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and prosperous new year.
22 December 2021