Staff Exchange is an activity which is part of the Everywhere International SMEs (EIS) project, where partners visit each other's regions to exchange work experiences. In March, the first Staff Exchange took place in Italy, when partners from Central Denmark and Alentejo, Portugal visited the city of Bologna in the Emilia-Romagna Region. Staff Exchange offers an opportunity to better understand each other's situations:

"It was very valuable for us to talk to the people who are actually working with the programmes, and we got a much deeper insight into it," says Pia Marlene Nissen from the Central Denmark Region, who was one of the visiting partners.  

Intense programme  

The partners from the Emilia-Romagna Region had prepared an intense programme for the visitors, who met with various stakeholders and organisers in the region.   

"We also arranged visits to two SMEs. One of them has a long history of exporting, and the other is a new kind of SME, that we are seeing in our region - a start-up which began exporting its product with decentralised production in our county, with management, design and marketing centralised in the headquarter in Bologna," says Gian Luca Baldoni, partner and host from the Emilia-Romagna region.  

The Staff Exchange began with a visit Bologna, which the Central Danish partners had expressed particular interest in:  

"We wanted to learn how they are working with conferences in Emilia-Romagna, because it is something we might like to do, too. Their way of dealing professionally with incoming visits to the region was very interesting to us," explains Malou Munkholm from the Central Denmark Region.   

"Good model to learn and share important knowledge"  

The following days were packed with stakeholder meetings and study visits. “This was a great learning experience”, says Alexandra Correia from the Alentejo Region, who was also a visiting partner:  

"We learned a lot from the stakeholders they are working with, but also from the enterprises we visited, which were supported by the regional programme. We can compare what we learnt with our own regional programme and support systems. We gained new ideas and made many new contacts, so it was very useful for us," says Alexandra Correia, who continues:

 "We were able to ask questions directly to the people who are in the field. This would have been difficult at a big event. A Staff Exchange is a very good model for learning and sharing important knowledge," she says.

Beneficial to meet stakeholders in their home base

 According to Federica Diamanti, one of the Italian partners, the Staff Exchange was beneficial for the hosts as well.

 "It was good for us to see our stakeholders in their home base. Usually, they come to us, so it was a nice change for us to go there and better understand what their challenges are," she says. Gian Luca Baldoni explained that the Staff Exchange was interesting for the Italian stakeholders, too:

 "It allowed them to understand the opportunities that exist for SMEs to approach new markets in other European regions much better," he said.

 Also participating in the Staff Exchange was stakeholder Rosa Onofre from the Alentejo region. A stakeholder herself, she was interested in seeing their way of doing things in the Italian region:

 "As a stakeholder, it was very important take part. We have similar regional problems, and Emilia-Romagna deals with them in a different way. It was very interesting to see this and hear the opinions from the local stakeholders there," says Rosa Onofre.

Next Staff Exchange to take place in the Central Denmark Region

 In June, the partners meet again for a new Staff Exchange, this time in the Central Denmark Region. Gian Luca Baldoni looks forward to learning more about the Danish programmes:

 "The Central Denmark Region is more focused on the first steps of the Six Step Model that we are working with in the EIS project. They work a lot on motivation and how to involve SMEs in exporting. It is a different approach from the one used in our region, so we would like to see how it is organised and what results it brings the SMEs," he says.

 Pia Marlene Nissen from the Central Denmark Region plans to take the guests around to meet their stakeholders during the Staff Exchange.

 "We hope it will be valuable for our stakeholders as well as our EIS partners. When the guests come and ask questions, they will start to reflect and think "why don't we do that?" or "why don't we do it like this?"" she said, and Malou Munkhom added,

 "The fact that their work has the interest of partners around Europe, and is interesting enough to be either copied or a source of inspiration, will raise their own awareness of what they are doing and why. Both visitors and hosts gain from the Staff Exchanges," she explains.

 Besides Denmark, Staff Exchanges will take place in Croatia and Ireland in the coming months.