The Swiss export promoter, Osec Business Network Switzerland, has celebrated its 75th anniversary amid drastic changes aimed at rejuvenating the organisation.
Over the past year, Osec - which receives almost two-thirds of its funding from the government - has changed its strategy, organisational structure and even its name in a bid to provide a full range of services to help Switzerland's small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) enter foreign markets.
Osec, founded in 1927 as the country's official body for the promotion of foreign trade, is trying to become modern, customer-oriented and networked throughout the world.
"We hope that our new organisational structure will help as many SMEs as possible to expand internationally. In Switzerland, there are 15,000 SMEs that could expand internationally but have not yet found the courage to do so. Our main focus is on reaching out and helping them," Balz Hösly, CEO of Osec, told swissinfo.
Part of its new strategy is to set up business hubs in foreign countries as "one-stop shops", providing Swiss SMEs with contacts, market information and local expertise.
Over the past year, Osec, which employs 80 staff worldwide, has set up seven business hubs in cities including Milan, Stuttgart and Tokyo.
"We cannot successfully run our organisation if we are only nationally positioned. The business hubs provide support networks for SMEs in the most important markets for Swiss companies," said Hösly.
Changes at the non-profit organisation were prompted by a new Swiss export promotion law, which came into force in March 2001 and focuses activities on SMEs. The law stipulated that a third party must be used to promote exports instead of automatically handing the mandate to Osec, as was previously the case.
David Syz, president of the organisation's supervisory board and head of Switzerland's State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (Seco), admitted it was taking time for Osec to adapt to the changes. "You can't change an old lady of 73 years in two or three years," he said.
Osec, which receives SFr15.2 million a year in funding from Seco, offers consulting, training and marketing services to 1,600 member companies and close to 7,000 clients.
Its Internet-based service centre receives more than 60 questions each day from firms looking for answers to business problems they are experiencing in foreign countries.
Osec plans to launch 14 new business hubs this year in cities such as Moscow, Paris and San Paolo.
Switzerland is one of the world's leading export nations with over SFr 130 billion worth of goods sold abroad in 2001.
by Karin Kamp