This was the message delivered at Red Deer College on Monday, when representatives of several international financial institutions described the business opportunities abroad.
They were taking part in IFI Days, which was held to raise awareness of how Canadian goods and services could be sold into international markets, including through financial institutions like the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank and the Asian Development Bank.
“We can’t keep looking at the domestic economy, otherwise, particularly in Alberta, we’re going to go through that boom-bust cycle all the time,” said Ray Joyce, a consultant and trainer from The Joyce Group in Calgary, and one of the speakers.
“The United States is slowly but surely closing its borders, not just to Canadians but to everyone.”
Joyce said Canadian businesses should be looking outward, and taking advantage of programs and agencies that can help them navigate into and through foreign markets.
“It’s amazing how little knowledge Canadians, and Albertans in particular, have of the international world and the sources of help that are available to them.”
About 100 people attended IFI Days, with about a third coming from each of Calgary, Edmonton and Central Alberta. However, those taking part travelled from as far away as Yellowknife and Saskatchewan.
Wayne Gustafson, vice-president of business development with Williams Engineering in Red Deer, said his company has done work overseas and is eager to broaden that base.
“It makes a lot of sense, we think, to diversify in the global economy.”
He agreed with Joyce that many domestic companies are failing to take advantage of this potential market.
“I think Canadian companies are, by our very nature being Canadians, we’re not all that aggressive.”
Francois Page, a senior adviser with the Canadian executive director’s office of the World Bank in Washington, D.C., offered his insights into what Canadian firms have to offer.
“Our reputation is excellent,” he said, adding that Canada doesn’t carry the historical baggage that some colonial powers have when it comes to working in developing countries.
This country’s geography has also helped it develop expertise in areas like distance learning and telehealth, noted Page.
“These are things that can be very useful for developing countries.”
Many Canadian businesses also have skills related to cold weather, and are familiar with aboriginal cultures, he said.
“They have comparative advantages in many, many areas.”
Joyce, who teaches international business at the University of Calgary, offered several tips on how to foster international business.
These included being familiar with the cultures of countries you’re interested in, being patient and working to build relationships.
“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
Page stressed that while the World Bank wants to increase Canadian businesses’ awareness of international development opportunities, its mandate is to help poor countries.
“The objective of the bank is to fight poverty,” he said, explaining that if a company has a product or service that can help, then it’s a candidate to do business through the World Bank.
IFIs are a good place to start when looking for foreign opportunities, said Joyce.
“So much money goes through them, so many countries go through them, that we’re foolish not to look at them as a source of broadening the base of our business.”
Page has taken part in a number of seminars like IFI Days, but was impressed with the one-day event in Red Deer.
“I’m really amazed by the turnout,” he said, confessing that he ran out of business cards.