Changing for the better

In February 2016, the Policy and Operations Evaluation Department (IOB) of the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs published the findings of an evaluation into the extent that CBI helped achieve Dutch Private Sector Development (PSD) objectives between 2005 and 2012. The aim was to improve the design of trade support programmes and maximise their outcomes. Dick de Man, for many years CBI’s Deputy Managing Director, puts the IOB findings into perspective and explains how, for the past four years, CBI has already been addressing most of its criticisms.

Soon, CBI will publish its vision for 2020, incorporating the recommendations of the minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation and the strategic guidelines from the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The findings listed in the IOB report range from occasionally not going far enough to ensure its interventions had the desired effect on the target group, to a lack of transparency in the effects of those interventions. For a full digest of the main findings, refer to the panel “In a nutshell”.

The relevance of CBI is undisputed, as is confirmed by IOB. Today, developing countries still experience a non-level playing field in their effort to connect to global value chains. The lack of strategic intelligence at all levels and the lack of soft skills to turn this intelligence into export policies and export plans, and to actually comply to market requirements forms the biggest market imperfection. This particularly applies to SMEs and especially SMEs in LDCs. As a partner in development in equipping SMEs and BSO’s to become self reliant in coping with these challenges and achieve sustainable entry to our markets, CBI is at the core of our minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation combined agenda of aid, trade and investment.

Integrated approach

To provide some context, De Man explains that in 2012 CBI changed from a product-oriented to an integrated, programme-oriented country approach based on a value chain analysis. Since then, CBI has supported the local export climate in an integrated way by offering export coaching to SMEs, market intelligence, and underscoring public-private partnerships and the services provided by Business Support Organisations (BSOs).“ Since 2012, following DCED guidelines, CBI programmes have been tailored to a country, its export policy, the sector and the needs of exporting companies, BSOs and partner organisations.”

CBI used to be part of the Netherlands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and headquartered in Rotterdam, he continues. In 2012 it moved to The Hague and from January 2015 it’s been part of the Netherlands’ Enterprise Agency (RVO), which falls under the Ministry of Economic Affairs.“ CBI has long collaborated with organisations that capitalise on synergies in international programmes. Our integration with RVO now presents even more synergies with Dutch PSD.”

Improved linkages

Over the years, CBI has entered into and initiated PSD partnerships with organisations that include our local BSO partners, Dutch and European partner organisations, the International Trade Center (ITC) and The World Trade Organization (WTO). Furthermore, collaboration with European importers and sector associations has been reinforced through establishing over 20 sector focus groups advising CBI on market developments, while improved linkages from exporting SMEs

in developing countries(DCs) to Dutch/European import channels have clearly benefited both.

Monitoring and evaluation (M&E)was flagged up as an area for improvement and De Man agrees, although he does point out that it’s difficult to quantify the relevance and impact of PSD on a great diversity of SMEs in DCs. In addition to its new result-based working method CBI, in collaboration with two leading Dutch universities and PUM, an organisation comprised of senior and retired Dutch managers, is developing a methodology that improves M&E and gives it a better understanding of the effect of its interventions. Known as PRIME (Pioneering Real-time Impact Monitoring and Evaluation), research is being carried out into the impact of CBI’s capacity-building and export-promotion activities. In the context of PRIME, and based on SME data received from five countries, CBI has been advised how its monitoring systems can be further improved.


Selection criteria

Another IOB concern was country-selection criteria. While taking into account the many changes CBI has already undergone since 2012, De Man feels that there should indeed be a reduction in the number of “CBI countries”, currently 48. “A more focused country approach and selection will offer more opportunities for more structured cooperation with companies and their sector organisations in DCs.”

That said, he feels that CBI should continue to focus on a mix of countries and companies with a diversified approach. On the one hand it’s easier to achieve results with companies and countries that are more developed, while on the other hand the success of an intervention can be amplified in a riskier and more complex environment. “But CBI’s integration with RVO and its cooperation with other PSD partners should be expanded to more effectively address bottlenecks faced by exporters that fall outside CBI’s mandate.”


Aside from fielding criticism, let’s not forget some of CBI’s many strengths, urges De Man, particularly post-2012. “CBI has an excellent international reputation, for example. Our programmes are highly regarded in partner countries, and organisations such as the ITC and WTO praise our expertise and practical approach. ”After its 2012 regrouping, CBI’s mission of promoting the sustainable development of DCs through exports has become an even more relevant part of the Netherlands’ aid, trade and investment policy, he concludes. “Acting on the IOB’s findings and recommendations will now further strengthen CBI in achieving concrete results.”

Key recommendations

Moving forward, CBI needs to:

  • narrow its focus and reduce the number of eligible countries
  • improve sustainability by defining an exit strategy
  • enhance the monitoring, evaluation and steering of its interventions
  • allow more supervision from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  • improve cooperation and coordination
  • include more local expertise

In a nutshell: IOB findings of CBI’s performance 20052012

  • While CBI’s Export Coaching programmes successfully helped companies to overcome a lack of information about export markets, for many of them it was not enough to get them exporting to Europe. About half of the companies showed an increase in exports.
  • The selection criteria for countries and companies in developing countries that CBI helps were not always clear. There was doubt whether CBI focused too much on companies that were almost ready to export.
  • While CBI evaluations of Business Support Organisation (BSO) Development programmes revealed that interventions were generally relevant, the difficulty in measuring technical assistance to BSOs means there is little information on their effectiveness.
  • The available evidence does not point to an efficiently operating CBI, mainly because the right incentives were not in place.
  • The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs was too little involved in CBI’s work. Since 2010, the Ministry became more prescriptive.
  • It is difficult to effectively monitor, evaluate and steer CBI’s programmes. Its Monitoring and Evaluation system needs to be further improved.
  • CBI has shown itself to be a learning organisation.


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