Young Exporter of the Year: An Interview with Alessia Borrini from NMS Infrastructure

I had the pleasure of interviewing Alessia Borrini, Bid Coordinator for francophone countries at NMS Infrastructure. Alessia successfully negotiated a bid for a $250 million public healthcare infrastructure project in Ivory Coast from an initial meeting with the government to signature of Memorandum of Understanding and she is now working towards reaching construction commencement in April 2019.

Name:  Alessia Borrini

Company: NMS Infrastructure

Position: Bid & Contract Coordinator – Francophone countries

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

I was born and raised in Rome, Italy. I studied languages and cultural mediation and hold a Masters degree in International Relations. I moved to London 4 years ago looking for the next work challenge and began working at NMS, a medium size enterprise that provides turnkey infrastructure solutions, particularly in the healthcare sector in sub Saharan Africa.

NMS was looking at that time to hire a French speaking person to join their Bid team with the long-term objective to expand their export into the francophone countries of sub-Saharan Africa. I first joined the company as a Bid assistant with a support role in the process of winning a $300 million hospital programme in Zambia. As the company gained traction within the French speaking countries my role developed into a more comprehensive bid coordinator role.

Can you share an interesting exporting story that has happened to you since you became a leader or started your company?

When I first started working on the Cote d’Ivoire Hospital Project there were a number of variables that we were unsure about which required local understanding. An interesting one regarded the memorandum of understanding (MOU), which is the first official legal document that engage the parties to work together. In our case, both the government of Cote d’Ivoire and NMS confirmed their interest to work on the hospital project. In our previous experience, the MOU is usually a two page document which lists high level deliverables and total budget estimated for the project. We soon discovered that in the case of Cote d’Ivoire, their public procurement process made the MOU a far more comprehensive document with more specific interim deliverables and it therefore required a long negotiation. We learnt the lesson of trying to reproduce the same previously standard procedures in a new country which had completely different rules – a realisation which delayed us. There was a three months negotiation which ended up with a direct meeting where, only then, did we fully understand the client’ s processes and procedures and the MOU was finally signed. A long process of learning on both sides which concluded successfully in the end!

What advice would you give to someone who is just starting their exporting journey?

One of the things that I have learnt when working in export is that it is fundamental to know your market before you start the exporting journey. In order to properly structure an exporting strategy and enter a new market you need to have a fairly deep knowledge not only of the target country, but also their competitors and the need and demand for your product. It is also important to have good knowledge of the legal, taxation and administrative aspects. My background in cultural mediation has taught me that an appreciation, and a thorough knowledge of cultural diversity is paramount when exporting. Knowing “what makes people tick” in your target market is the key to a successful export.

Can you share any stories or examples of how your company is making a difference to others, or how you’re making an influence in your sector?

The provision of healthcare makes a real and tangible difference to people’s lives, perhaps nowhere more so than in developing countries.  I am proud to work for a company that is committed to improving the lives of the people in the countries where we operate. Surrounding ourselves with specialists in healthcare, we ensure that our hospitals incorporate cutting edge, context appropriate innovations, meeting not only the expectations of our customers, but also attaining international recognition from the WHO (World Health Organisation). Our hospital in Dodowa, Ghana, awarded with a number of design and finance prizes, was labelled a “benchmark for other health facilities in Africa in terms of infrastructure and service delivery” by Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO Regional Director for Africa.

Can you share what you believe will be the “Top 4 Exporting Trends Over The Next 3 Years”

I believe that the top four exporting trends over the next three years will be: a shift in UK export destinations; increased financial support for export by organisations like UKEF and CDC; Sterling’s devaluation improving competitive advantage for UK exporters; and a renewed focus on the manufacturing sector of the UK economy and its exporting potential.

The EU, which has been one of the major export markets for the UK, has suffered a relative decline in importance over the past ten years compared to developing countries, whose importance to the UK export is likely to continue to grow. I believe that this trend will continue, especially in the light of Brexit and the uncertainty of the economic relationship between UK and EU, pushing the UK government and companies to focus on non-EU export destinations.

The increased budget of financial institutions like CDC directed to Africa (announced a commitment of up to £ 3.5 billion in the next four years) is a sign that these regions are taking on increased importance in the UK export market. In the years following Brexit, exporters will benefit also from a £2 billion increased direct lending facility of UKEF (United Kingdom Export Finance – the export credit agency of the UK), which again will support the export industry. These changes reflect a renewed emphasis by UK government and quasi-governmental funding sources on supporting non-EU exports. Such a drive by the UK government is likely to lead private funding sources to also explore new markets.

UK exporters will also benefit from a decline in the value of the pound, which will increase their competitive advantage when exporting, especially compared to the US or EU. Continued uncertainty over the outcome of Brexit is likely to continue for the medium term, keeping sterling’s price suppressed.

With regards to service sector exports, these are likely to continue to grow outside of the EU, aided by the common legal framework existing in many African and Commonwealth countries. The prospects of the manufacturing sector remain uncertain despite a renewed focus on the sector from policy makers. Although there is optimism about the exporting climate because of the weak pound, these benefits may be tempered in many of the UK’s higher tech manufacturers by higher input costs.

What are the medium to long-term objectives that you’re focusing on at your company and how will you achieve this?

My medium and long-term objectives within the company are to expand our export market into more francophone countries in sub Saharan Africa. We are going to achieve this using two main assets: 1) the project in Cote d’Ivoire and the experience myself and the company are gaining in francophone Africa, which will surely help us achieve a positive result when it comes to starting new projects in francophone Africa; and 2) the relationship that we have formed with major stakeholders in the region, which will help us consolidate our successes and give us precious insights on how to expand further.