Alumni Stories: “The EIC has made me feel much more confident…”

In 2020, more than 150 international trade professionals from nearly 30 countries completed the ICC Academy’s Export/Import Certificate (EIC). They are all now official ICC alumni!

Throughout 2021, we will be speaking to some of these graduates to give you a better insight into:

  • What type of people take the EIC?
  • What impact will completing the EIC have on my day-to-day working life? What benefits will I get?
  • What topics will I learn about on the EIC?

For our first interview of 2021, we spoke with Collins Ayoo in Kenya. Collins works for the International Trade Centre (ITC), helping SMEs to maximise the benefits they get from international trade. Read on to find out how attaining the EIC qualification has already helped Collins deliver a better service for his clients!

ICC Academy (ICCA): Hi Collins, thanks for talking to us. Can you provide some insight into what you do?

Collins Ayoo (CA): Hello! I work as an entrepreneurship and business development officer for the International Trade Centre (ITC) – a joint agency of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

I am based in Nairobi and the focus of my role is to provide trade related technical assistance to SMEs, especially those engaged in international trade. My main remit is SMEs in the north-eastern part of Kenya. Our aim is to bring them closer to the national value chain.

My experience is that, while some of these SMEs engage in international trade and are involved in exporting and importing, they lack the appropriate knowledge to get the most from these activities, especially when it comes to financing. My aim is to improve the capacity of the SMEs to ensure they get the maximum benefit from engaging in trade.

ICCA: So, you provide education and training for the SMEs?

CA: Yes. I provide both training and market access opportunities and spearhead these projects in Kenya, reporting to our head office in Geneva. We are now approaching the 3rd cohort of training for this project.

ICCA: Great. And what prompted your initial interest in international trade?

CA: Prior to working for the ITC, I was an economist. I worked at the Institute of Economic Affairs for two years before moving to ITC. We got projects from organisations like the African Union and the African Export-Import Bank.

I remember we once got a project from the African Export-Import Bank to map out China’s opportunities and trade patterns in Africa. I found this fascinating, looking at how China could streamline their operations while also ensuring the counterparty, Africa in this case, got value for the projects they were initiating. This sparked my interest in international trade.

ICCA: Sounds very interesting! Once you became interested in international trade, what motivated you to enrol on the ICC Academy’s Export/Import Certificate (EIC)? Was there a particular challenge or need you were facing professionally?

CA: Once I moved to the ITC, I quickly realised international trade was an expansive topic and my knowledge at that point was limited to the policy side. I really wanted to understand what SMEs go through and have to put in place in order for them to trade successfully across borders. I felt it was important for me to be able to ‘walk in their shoes’ so I could understand the issues they faced.

I also felt challenged when colleagues mentioned some technical trade jargon. I had not come across some of these terms and didn’t know what they meant. Like I mentioned, I had policy knowledge but not so much on the operations and physical side. At that point it was clear to me that I needed to upgrade my knowledge and my boss recommended the ICC Academy to me.

ICCA: Can you remember any specific examples of feeling like your knowledge was lacking?

CA: Yes. For example, I don’t have a finance background so when an SME used to tell me they were conflicted or confused about post-shipment trade finance I couldn’t answer them properly. There is nothing quite so demoralising as saying “let me get back to you in a few days’ time”, while you go back to the internet and do some more research.

My performance is gauged by how best SMEs can streamline their operations. They really look up to me for solutions and clarity so if I give them ‘half baked’ solutions then they will get ‘half-baked’ results.

ICCA: How has your work benefitted from completing the EIC qualification?

CA: When I go out to meet SMEs and they start asking me questions about transportation and financing, I now have the answers and feel in a much better position to help them. The EIC has made me feel much more confident and I feel I can offer the SMEs I am working with real value for money. I can take them to the next level which provides me with enormous satisfaction.

ICCA: Do you have any specific examples of how completing the EIC has benefitted your day-to-day job already?

CA: Yes definitely. Many of my clients are outside the big cities of Nairobi and Mombasa and their knowledge of financing products such as documentary credits and collections is limited. These businesses are mainly relying on trust when they send goods over the border. They have to trust that their customers will pay once they receive the goods and within an appropriate time period.

However, when I tell them about the different financing options available, such as documentary credits, collections and even guarantees, it makes them realise they can safeguard their interests better.

Previously, they were experiencing payment delays and defaults – their businesses were in bad shape. Yet they were still constantly sending goods across the border.

For example, one of my clients shared their books with me and I could see that they were selling goods on credit but not receiving payment in advance, which was then affecting business operations. Anyway, he asked for my help to come up with a new strategy to tackle the issue of payment.

We focused specifically on an order from a customer in Somalia to supply soap. The order was from a repeat customer who had not yet cleared their initial debt. However, my client didn’t want to lose this business – or for his stock to go bad. He was in a bit of a catch-22 situation.

This is where my new knowledge of trade financing options really helped. We contacted a local bank who offered documentary credits and brought in my customer’s client. Just like my customer, this business was also surprised to find out that these financing tools existed. They are not widely known in this part of the world.

My customer’s client came on board and so far, so good. The best part is that my client has told me that he feels some sense of security now which really warms my heart.

If I had not learned about these methods through the EIC then my client would still be conducting trade on an open account basis and, judging by his previous books, he would really be suffering.

ICCA: That’s fantastic to hear. It sounds like you really enjoyed the trade finance course in the EIC. Were there any other aspects of the programme that you enjoyed?

CA: I really loved the case studies and the examples throughout. In terms of topics, I found two of them really fascinating; financing like I have mentioned but also the business transactions and contracts course.

This is because most of my clients don’t really operate with a contract – their business is based on mutual trust and they run on an open account basis. This is where the problems start and why they have a high number of defaults. The EIC helped me understand how to tailor a contract – I still use some of the templates I learned in the course with my clients.

I use what I learned every day because of the variety of my work. Each SME has its own characteristics and demands. One day I’ll meet with an SME who has a contract issue, another day might be a financing issue and the next day might be an operational issue – all topics that are covered under the EIC.  Lots of what I learned has stuck with me even one year after completing the course.

ICCA: Final question, what are your career ambitions for the next 3-5 years?

CA: In 3-5 years’ time I would like to start my own consultancy helping SMEs on a bigger scale. Currently I only help those in Kenya but I am sure there are many SMEs in other countries in Africa, such as Uganda and Congo that would benefit from my assistance, specifically around international trade and export/import operations.

I would also like to take more qualifications from the ICC, specifically the Incoterms® 2020 Certificate which is very relevant, as well as the Certified Trade Finance Professional (CTFP) so I can enhance my trade finance expertise. Finally, I am interested in the Islamic Banking and Finance course because I predominantly work in an area where Islam is the dominant culture and religion, and I cannot offer products that go against the Islam religion to many of my clients.

ICCA: Thank you very much Collins!

Further Learning

If you want to bring your knowledge and understanding of international trade up to the same level as Collins then you can find out more about the Export/Import Certificate (EIC) here. The EIC will teach you the practical skills required to effectively conduct cross-border transactions and manage an international business. This easy-to-understand programme includes 21 hours of learning over 22 lessons as well as a final exam. Both new and experienced practitioners will gain an in-depth understanding of international trade processes and learn how to compete successfully in foreign markets, or help their clients to do the same.