British Expertise International is encouraging SMEs from across the UK to compete for emerging infrastructure export opportunities on a global stage, reports Rob O’Connor.
Global climate change and the race to net zero represent both the biggest challenges and opportunities currently facing the infrastructure sector, but the outlook for UK exports remains positive, according to Derrick Sanyahumbi, the recently appointed chief executive of infrastructure exports organisation British Expertise International (BEI).
And SMEs from across the UK are being encouraged to compete for emerging infrastructure export opportunities, as part of the vital global post-Covid recovery. Speaking exclusively with Infrastructure Intelligence editor Andy Walker on Friday 12 March, the engaging and wide-ranging conversation was the first of our regular 2021 In the Spotlight interviews, organised in association with communications specialists and Infrastructure Intelligence strategic partners BECG,
Sanyahumbi took over at BEI, the UK’s leading membership organisation for UK-based companies exporting infrastructure services, in January and is already building on his organisation’s strong connections with UK and global governments and business, strengthening its key networks in critical areas of international engagement, notably trade and international development as well as foreign policy.
BEI's new CEO has extensive experience of working in southern Africa and Asia, having worked for the UN, the World Bank’s International Finance Cooperation and the Netherlands Development Agency - SNV, on private sector development related programmes. Prior to this he built a successful career in marketing over 15 years in the Southern African tobacco industry. His expertise combines real world experience of the practicalities of operating in developing countries, with a sound understanding of the UK and international private sector and the policies and operations of government and multilateral organisations.
Despite taking charge during a global pandemic, Sanyahumbi has hit the ground running and, asked about the future for exports in the infrastructure arena, he is confident that the UK’s reputation for quality and innovation presents a big opportunity to both remain and grow as global green industry leaders, as the demand for continued infrastructure investment is vital to the global post-Covid recovery.
“On balance, I think there is a positive outlook, although there remain some significant challenges,” he said. “I would highlight four key areas for this positive outlook. Firstly, the global imperative is to build back stronger. In the UK budget, we saw how critical infrastructure investment is, with the establishment of the National Infrastructure Bank and significant focus on ‘levelling up’. And, whilst the budget did not put much focus on international trade, what we do know is that the need to invest in infrastructure will be replicated in multiple countries – so there is a global market out there.
“Secondly, the UK has a reputation and proven track record for quality. The UK is known as a global leader in science, technology and innovation. We are renowned for our enabling capabilities and services and our know-how in turning plans into reality, so we have proven capability.
“Thirdly, our collective focus. UK exports are critical to the country’s economic wellbeing; after a number of years where the government has been largely focussed on Brexit and now the pandemic, the focus is now shifting – with the UK hosting key global events like the G7 and COP26. We are once again seeing a real investment in the establishment and reinforcement of ‘Global Britain’ - so we have a key need, and the right focus.
“Finally, during 2020 and in the early part of this year, BEI have run a lot of events and a key message from all the developing and emerging economies was the post-Covid emphasis of building infrastructure – including roads, rail, metros airports and ports. So, there is a clear global need for British firms and expertise to fill that gap,” said Sanyahumbi.
Asked what he saw as the major export issues facing the infrastructure sector, Sanyahumbi described the long-held enduring challenges faced by the industry but also highlighted the opportunities presented by emerging challenges in the new-Covid landscape.
“In terms of enduring challenges, it remains a constant focus to navigate the complex world of UK and international governments and their agencies and to compete successfully through the maze of procurement,” he said. “In terms of emerging challenges, we see a broadening of the term ‘infrastructure’ - with issues like digital and technology connectivity and cyber-security rising rapidly in importance. We also see growing focus on a real understanding of diversity and inclusion as well as safeguarding.
“And of course, the biggest challenge – and opportunity – lies in the global climate change agenda and the work towards carbon net zero,” he said.
Encouraging more SMEs to use exports to help drive growth, Sanyahumbi said: “One of the biggest challenges we face is that relatively few UK SMEs use exports as a means of growth, especially when the UK market is so buoyant. But it has been proven that companies who export are more resilient and productive, so the challenge we face as BEI is to persuade companies to use their scarce resource to pursue overseas business development - and there is a lot of work to be won on the global stage.”
Describing the vital importance of tackling climate change, he said: “First thing to say is that tackling climate change is a global imperative. It effects every country, and we have to act more quickly and more coherently together to protect the planet. But I also see this as a major opportunity – and a need – for the UK to be a global leader in this green industrial revolution, especially with COP26 taking place in Glasgow this year.”
Outlining BEI’s role in helping UK firms to build a thriving foothold overseas, Sanyahumbi said: “Our goal and focus is to maximise the success of UK plc in international markets. We see ourselves as the ‘honest brokers’ if you like – providing platforms and dialogue between commercial entities, government bodies and other clients.
“We have truly global reach and experience, with a particular focus on emerging and developing markets. Our position and experience means that we have not just relationships in these markets, but we can also help business understand the nuances and challenges of doing business in these differing parts of the world through our networks and connections.
“We have built and continue to build strong relationships – not just with relevant UK government departments like the FCDO and DIT, but also with the foreign embassies here in London, global and multilateral development banks and other international decision-makers.”
Finally, encouraging SMEs from all over the UK to compete on a global stage, Sanyahumbi said: “We accelerate the ability of our members to access global opportunities. In particular, we are keen to champion companies of all sizes and across the length and breadth of the UK. It goes without saying that we would welcome new members who are seeking to grow their export business.”
The Infrastructure Intelligence LIVE 2021 series of events is organised in association with our events and communications strategic partner, BECG.