International Consultant
Experience > Technological Missions

Technological Missions

The Technological Missions combine visits to foreign enterprises that apply the "best practices" with practical seminars. By participating, SMEs can initiate learning processes and increase their capacity for innovation.

The productivity level of SMEs in developing countries lags far behind that of the large domestic companies, amounting in many cases to only between 20% and 50% of that amount. The SMEs have very little capacity for innovation, which is viewed as being unimportant, inasmuch as small and medium-sized industrial companies produce mainly traditional mass-market goods (such as footwear, garments, and simple food products) for market segments that are only able to pay very little for them.

The small and medium-sized enterprises' lack of innovative capacity can be attributed to:

  • Their lack of specialised manpower

  • Very few large enterprises - and needless to say SMEs - have a research and development (R&D) department

  • There are very few efficient public institutions that promote R&D in the developing countries

  • Cases of specialised inter-company co-operation are almost unheard of. Efficiency, however, increases through specialisation

  • By drastically reducing competition, the import substitution and planned economy periods virtually destroyed the incentive to innovate. The way of thinking born of those circumstances is still widely disseminated.

  • Management of quality aspects is virtually nonexistent among SMEs.


It is not my intention to address here the broad array of possible measures for promoting innovation. (We are more interested in presenting our own experiences, although we have sought to situate them within their conceptual framework.) Technological Missions to industrialised countries are one of the myriad ways of increasing the SMEs' capacity for innovation. Small and medium-sized enterprises (exporters; potential exporters; and companies that still produce for the local market only) visit SMEs working in their sector to learn about "practical improvements" for organising production, managing quality aspects, design, and the like. They learn about the requirements that exporters must meet and the conditions for access to international markets. At the same time, seminars are held on issues like marketing, quality, and regularisation, etc.

A Mission of this kind, in which the managers of ten small and medium-sized garment makers participated, travelled in March 2001 to Reutlingen, Germany. The Export-Akademie Baden-Württemberg (which belongs to the University of Applied Sciences of Reutlingen) was responsible for its organisation in Germany. The Mission was so successful that a second one took place in November 2001 - and the participants were willing to pay two-thirds of the cost!

Copyright © 2012 Heiko Windolph, Berlin
Last update: June 2012