Development programme for export consultants, Ukraine: Finalist of Innovative Teaching and Learning Award 2022
Innovation in changing times in Ukraine
Export Experts Needed
OÜ Turundusproff, a private educational organisation in Estonia, is run by Anu. Her nuanced understanding of her field, and of the Ukraine, shine through as she tells us her story, beginning with, “it was a beautiful summer in Ukraine.” One of her friends said businesses in Ukraine needed someone to help them to create export training. After training more than 3000 exporting companies in Ukraine, she realised that a new approach would be needed. The challenge was to make export consultants operational quickly, to become more efficient, and sustainable in their business. Anu put her thinking cap on and conducted a small pilot, and the ‘Export Consultant Training Programme’ was born.
The challenge was two-pronged – make trainees into successful consultants, and train groups across very disparate fields - an expert in agriculture may have little to say to an expert in fashion.
The programme was developed, and across 10 regions in Ukraine small groups of participants worked with local companies for a month – mostly in a sector outside their area of expertise. This intensity meant teamwork and pressure to get results fast. Anu says
“we needed to push them to maximum. For example, we asked them to work with fashion companies on branding. [Unlike in other sectors] branding is the biggest part of the value added. Some people, for example middle-aged guys, had not really thought about fashion.”
Anu gives the example of ice cream - even those who work in the food sector don't necessarily understand the logistical challenges of working with cheese, wine or indeed, ice cream. “How do you get ice cream from Ukraine to Italy or Portugal or France? You have to guarantee it stays frozen.” In this way, the trainees were pushed to really work with challenging real life cases.
Anna is an alumna and now the communication manager of the programmes in Ukraine. She says that one of the most challenging sectors for everybody was IT services, “but working on the module with others provided me with a broader view of others’ expertise.”
Different people different methods
There was a diverse membership on the training programme, including the Chamber of Commerce, industry, state administration and business. The trainers and mentors also had a range of backgrounds from tutors in international business, a journalist from the BBC, to experts in marketing, sales and logistics.
The programme relied on a flipped learning model. The trainees would watch videos and absorb material created by the tutors, and then immediately have to apply their learning and confidently face real clients, with a plan. The approach including gamification and they would regularly get together to share expertise and learning. One group might share their ideas about how to sell fashion in Japan or accessories in Nigeria. Ukraine has one of Europe's biggest bridal wear industries and Australia was used as a focus. How does the market operate? How can a company in Ukraine build a brand there?
The participants were not full-time students; they were working and had families. The programme was time consuming at the beginning - teamwork takes longer. Anu explains, “we imagined the time commitment would be 5 hours per week per person, but actually it was more like 10.” By the end of the second year, they understood better how to plan and how to become more efficient. Anna agrees “it's a really time consuming programme and … some people did struggle with it. However, every single member of our team got to the end of the programme. We were really engaged.” Retention rates like this are enviable.
The Russian war on Ukraine understandably had an impact on the programme, and not just logistically, as people relocated, became refugees or were on the frontline. Anu saw that the programme could be an important lifeline for participants, and an opportunity to feel supported by the West and to help the Ukrainian economy. In Estonia, where they were not in danger, they were able to stay calm and rethink their approach. One aspect of the programme was creating managed stress in order to push them, and they realised that adding to this was not helpful. Anu says,
“How can people learn or get involved in the competitive challenges of the programme when bombs are [being] dropped next to [their] house?”
They replaced the competitive element with more cooperative tasks.
Anna is enthusiastic about the impact the programme is having. She says that in Ukraine several years ago there was a shortage of export consultants, but thanks to the programme, this has dramatically decreased. And, what is important, ex-participants have stayed in touch via telegram groups. Now, she says, there “is the creation of an expert community of professionals who can grow together.” That creates a double effect with great social and economic impact.
As well as the stated aims of exporting and consulting skills, the trainees have benefited from soft skills such as leadership, communication skills, and English. Their supervisors and bosses have noticed how they have developed. Anna says she's not surprised, as “in order to survive the programme they had to master efficiency and time management very quickly!”
Building on Success
Given the political ramifications of the war, is the programme going to develop? Anu explains that it is hard to evaluate how many professionals in export consultancy are needed, and indeed how many are there. Some are in the military, and it is not known when or even if they will return to the export consulting profession. So, she does see scope for the programme to be developed and adapted as the political situation evolves. She knows the capacity building has to continue and that working with Ukrainian companies is a way to build up the country. She envisions the programme replicating the original version but is still looking for ways that she could increase the impact. Anna, however, smiles and says she wouldn't change a thing. She believes it was a great format and that she enjoyed being pushed. “We had no opportunity to not perform well.”
With the dedication to progress in both Estonia and Ukraine, the programme will continue evolve to support Ukrainian consultants. Anu adds how grateful she is for both the funding and the trust shown from Estonia and Development Corporation and the US embassy. She says
“they gave us total freedom to innovate. We could create the programme we thought was the best. I am so thankful for this.”