African Business Leaders Gather in Barcelona

Building “hands-on know-how” and deepening relations


IESE Business School

African leaders debate growth sectors of interest to Europe at IESE Barcelona / Photo: Jordi Estruch

"People are saturated with events about the big numbers and the macroeconomics of Africa," says IESE’s Prof. Alejandro Lago, co-director of The Africa Initiative. "We wanted to focus on key operational considerations instead. How can you get started doing business there? What do you need to know?" ­

Lago is one of the organizers of the IESE-Africa Think Tank & Networking Event that took place yesterday on the Barcelona campus. The event brought European executives together with CEOs, presidents, and other senior executives from Côte d'Ivoire who are in Barcelona for a week as part of their Advanced Management Program (AMP) with MDE Business School – which IESE helped launch in 2009.

This opportunity to network and look at the practical implications of doing business in Africa was one of several similar events held throughout the year when AMP and Executive MBA program participants from associated business schools in Africa are on-campus for a week in Barcelona and Madrid.

Filling the Practical Knowledge Gap

According to Lago, the events provide a valuable bridge between African businesses seeking European partners, and vice versa.

"The think-tanks are knowledge-based," says Lago. "There’s a lot out there already about macroeconomics, social entrepreneurship and NGOs, etc. But there’s a lack of practical information for for-profit businesses, so that’s what we provide. We invite executives who have relevant experience in Africa and we also present research findings."

African executives gain understanding of what their European counterparts are looking for when seeking business partners, while Europeans get hands-on know-how and insight into key operational considerations.

This week’s event looked at specific industries and sectors in Africa that are interesting from a European perspective. Those taking part in the discussion included François van den Abeele from Mobicash (a mobile technology company focused on Central and East Africa), Joan Masferrer from the West Africa-focused consultants Compass of the World, and Jean Chris Lesbros, the former CEO Africa of food group Gallina Blanca-Star.

Côte d'Ivoire executives presented practical advice on getting started, and insight into finding and selecting business partners.

More than 20 years in Africa

The think-tank was organized by The Africa Initiative, which has managed IESE’s activities in Africa since 2009, as part of its remit to "help to develop sustainable business leadership in Africa in order to have a positive and lasting impact on African society."

The other two main roles of the initiative, says Lago, are developing practitioner-based programs, research and case studies; and providing institutional and academic support to IESE’s Associated Business Schools in Africa: Lagos Business School in Nigeria, Strathmore Business School (SBS) in Kenya, and MDE in Côte d'Ivoire. IESE also works with Nile University in Cairo and with the Angola School of Business in Luanda, which was formally launched in 2010 with help from IESE in Lisbon.

"IESE’s role in Africa started in 1992 and has become larger and deeper," says Lago. "It is mainly knowledge-based." This includes supporting entrepreneurs who want to develop business schools and also in increasing the exposure of Barcelona-based open programs to Africa.

The inclusion of an elective module in Nairobi in the IESE MBA is testimony to growing international interest in the continent, says Lago. "We are seeing more and more connections with Africa."

Take a front row seat at the Africa Debate with professors Africa Ariño and Alejandro Lago.