Learning to play the international gameLast year the International Trade Institute of Southern Africa was launched with the aim of developing the foreign trade skills needed by SA's industrial producers, banks, shipping lines and forwarding and clearing agents. ZILLA EFRAT reports
THE International Trade Institute of Southern Africa (Itrisa) opened its doors little more than a year ago, but is fast emerging as a major player in developing the foreign trade skills South Africa so desperately needs.
Itrisa was founded in September 1996 by Rose Blatch and Ali Parry, who together had 23 years' experience behind them in running the SA Foreign Trade Organisation's (Safto) education and training division.
They have put together a selection of short training courses designed for exporters, importers and clearing and forwarding agents - and a number of these have been accredited by the Maritime Industry Training Board.
In addition, their long-distance learning certificate, launched in January, is the first of its kind in South Africa to encompass all aspects of international trade.
It has already attracted 160 students, including a number from neighbouring countries, and was accredited by the International Association of Trade Training Organisations (Iatto) in September.
For Itrisa's executive director, Rose Blatch, this was a milestone. "It means that our qualification is accepted all over the world and that our graduates will be able to build on it elsewhere in the world, if they want to," she says. "Being internationally accredited also enables us to benchmark what we are doing in South Africa with what is happening elsewhere in the world."
Itrisa's courses have also received support from a number of large local organisations, including Standard Bank and Credit Guarantee Insurance Corporation, both of which provide bursaries.
The institute is registered as a Section 21 company - established not for gain - and it also runs an educational consultancy which provides specialist services, either on a joint venture or fee basis, to other organisations or learning institutions.
As part of its foreign trade advisory service, it assists students who have problems in the field. Says Blatch: "If we are not in a position to help them, we refer them to other specialists in our network."
On the international front, the network is bolstered by Itrisa's link to Iatto, which has more than 40 members worldwide. Itrisa was made an institutional member of Iatto at its annual conference in Australia in September, when Blatch was elected as vice-president. She has been chairman of Iatto's international course accreditation working group since 1994 and is the director responsible for its Africa and Middle East regions.
Locally, Itrisa's network is fuelled by a string of contacts built up through years of involvement in the Exporters Club and links to other foreign trade specialists.
Itrisa is held in high regard by its students, including Sasol Solvent's export administration manager Karin van Rensburg, who started the distance learning programme with five colleagues in January.
She says: "Since the first set of study material was issued, I have been exceptionally impressed with the high standard of the course. The notes relate to all the practical issues we deal with on a daily basis and some of the theoretical concepts have helped us understand the bigger picture of exporting. I have gained knowledge in international trade that I would not have thought possible 10 months ago."
Itrisa's headquarters are in Johannesburg, but it plans to be active throughout South Africa and southern Africa and is signing up representatives in Cape Town, Durban and Harare. It already has students in Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia.
One area of future growth will involve tenders for major cross-border trade training projects in conjunction with international partners. Others will focus on widening the choice of Itrisa's courses and there are plans to introduce a host of multi-media products.
In a joint venture with Itrisa, Potchefstroom University is set to offer South Africa's first postgraduate diploma in international business via satellite. The diploma will be launched in 1999 and will be a distance learning course delivered via telematic learning systems to make it accessible to students throughout South Africa.
Telematics involves supplementing written course material with video and satellite broadcasts to learning centres. Students can fax, phone in or E-mail questions to the studio, where they will be dealt with "live" by lecturers.