It was natural that when the British Government set up its Know-How Fund (it now covers Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, the Soviet Union and Bulgaria) the British Council should take a major role. The fund responds to the expressed needs of the governments that it is offered to. And from the start that has meant, above all, management training. With a range of training courses in the UK and the countries concerned (organised by the CBI and the BIM among others) and the development of local structures, such as Poland's four regional management centres, it has been working towards two objectives: in the short term to help public and private enterprises to meet the challenge of the market, and in the longer term to develop the capacity of local management trainers and consultants. And since the first tool of management is English, we are on hand to establish (in Poland, Bulgaria and Romania) "English for management" advisory services.
Here, as in a great deal of its work, the British Council looked to attract partners and sponsorship. Even in these early days it has done well with its partners. British Aerospace (Commercial Aircraft) is sponsoring an exhibition of recent British books on management, four sets of which are travelling all over Eastern Europe. They attract publicity at every stop. In the words of Denis Little, BAe's senior vice-president (marketing), sponsorship "has been outstandingly successful as a means of making new and valuable contacts in several key countries".
Two years ago BAe entered into a partnership with Rank Xerox which is funding a series of management training initiatives in Eastern Europe. So far these have been focused on the Soviet Union. This year the scheme will train personnel from a number of centres in Leningrad. Meanwhile Rank Xerox is supporting an intensive 10-day management seminar for young professionals from the film and television industries of Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland. This will be held in June, at the British Council's headquarters in London.
It is interesting to note the changing reaction of the Soviets in particular. Initially they saw management training as a way of understanding western businesses in order to trade with them. But increasingly they are now perceiving it as a means to improve Soviet enterprise itself. That is good for the USSR, good for the UK and for our commercial partners, who will have noted the Soviet Ambassador's comment: "We will remember our friends who helped us in difficult times; and remember the friends who didn't."
The British are outnumbered on the ground, but it is gratifying how often the UK is the first choice of partner, how often it is given the first options to provide a service. Our response should be resolute. First, more UK companies should be prepared to persist when the going gets difficult. Second, they need to be constantly aware that what is needed is a reworking of the Eastern European countries' own systems.
Most of all, although English is the international language of business, we must not be complacent. There is an urgent need to speak other languages and to understand other cultures and markets in the same way that they are seeking to understand ours.