IESE’s 2nd Business in Emerging Markets Conference

This year's Business in Emerging Markets conference was held in March. The organizing team consisted of MBA 2022s (Niran Batra, Awethu Kafu, Chuks Umeche, and Giancarlo Young) and MBA 2023s (Alejandro Cordon, Abhik Damani, Fwangmun Haggai, and Qasim Meghjee). In the article below, the team shares some key insights from the event.

The organizing team from the Africa Business Club, Asia Business Club and LATAM Business Club at IESE.

Emerging Markets (“EM” / “EMs”) have a very important representation within MBA class as a significant proportion of students are from these regions. Hence, it was about time to bring back a space to share, reflect, and learn about the challenges and unique opportunities that are prevailing in the respective EM regions as of late. This was the main reason why IESE’s biggest regional clubs, the Africa Business Club, the Asia Business Club, and the Latin America Business Club came together to bring students the second edition of the EM conference which was themed ‘Moving Beyond Perceptions’. The conference was a combination of lectures, presentations from distinguished leaders & industry experts, and an alumni sharing event for students who are interested in exploring careers in EMs post-graduation.

Professor Pedro Videla, Head of IESE’s Economics Department and specialist on macroeconomics and emerging markets, opened the conference with an economic outlook keynote speech in which he highlighted how perceptions around EMs are changing. He showed the conference attendees how the center of global economic gravity is moving towards Asia and noted that this is the century of economic convergence, and that thanks to technology, “the fastest growth in GDP per capita in history is now”.

Ms. So-Young Kang, founder and CEO of Gnowbe, was the first keynote speaker. “Tech does not have to be dehumanizing” she stated. She emphasized the relevance of building delightful, participative relations with clients as key to creating long-term bonds. She also shared her experience as an entrepreneur by highlighting resilience as a critical factor during the first years of a project. Her speech was highly interactive as she got participants to use the Gnowbe app to share and interact with her as well as with others in the conference. So-Young left many students feeling inspired to go forth and conquer in spite of the challenges that are immediately apparent, and gave reassurance that any challenges can be surmounted.

Mr. Mitchell Elegbe, Founder and Group Managing Director of Interswitch, was the second keynote speaker. He shared how solving a social problem can be rewarded by the market but also mentioned that it is imperative to take the time to understand the culture and everyday challenges of customers before coming to them with a solution. In addition, meeting customers’ needs even before becoming noticeably profitable is a guideline for offering an initial set of products and services that is resilient to economic cycles. Mitchell shared these and many other insights into how he built a unicorn from the ground up.

The second part of the conference consisted of a career development session for the students who were eager to pursue opportunities in the EMs. Ms. Melissa Afonso, from IESE’s CDC responsible for LATAM recruitment, shared some insights on the region. “Due to the pandemic and inflation, MBAs are turning to more stable sectors” she mentioned while showing how consulting is becoming a more relevant career choice for LATAM students. She also addressed some insights for Asia regions – there are more opportunities for MBAs in senior level roles, two to three years after graduation. Mr. Ziad Moubarak, IESE’s CDC mentor responsible for Middle East & Africa mentioned how IESE’s targeted Africa initiatives are working on developing sustainable business leadership in the region.

The third part of the conference featured two panels, which demonstrated the tremendous diversity of emerging market communities. Professor Yih-Teen Lee, specialized in leadership and cultural bridging, moderated the Culture Panel. Mr. Paulo Avian, Latam representative, brought to discussion the difficulty of understanding customers, and relevance of being resilient at facing initial resistance to change; Mr. Handson Chiweshenga, Africa panelist representative, added that companies could convey an internal culture with local culture, by keeping the best aspects of both to start pursuing social innovations. Finally, Mr. Ashwath Ramesh, the Asia panelist representative, noted how influential the initial few employees in a new company or office can be at defining working culture. Hence the overall important of choosing the initial team.

To close the event, Ms. Paula Amorim, IESE MBA & MiM Admissions Director (MBA 2016), led the Alumni Panel, which was not only a moment to reflect, but to remember experiences on the MBA. Ms. Indira Campos (MBA 2015) started the discussion remarking the increase of connectivity through digitalization. As the IFC country manager for Botswana and Angola she shared personally how she has seen the power of technology transform and maximize working opportunities. Mr. Antoine Crettex (MBA 2019) explained that now companies have more and better-informed stakeholders, which implies a faster decision making under uncertainty, but at the end, businesses are “people making decisions”. Mr. Benjamin Borngraber-Berthelsen (MBA 2019) pointed out that emerging countries could be even more digitally open to digital first contact vs mature, developed economies, mainly because digitalization offers high convenience. To complement, Ms. Ingrid Gunawan (IESE 2019) remarked that adaptability is the key skill required to face challenges across all stages of an innovation, from creation to growth. When asked about the most relevant differential that IESE featured, all participants agreed that the multicultural exposure and diversity within the respective classes at IESE made a huge difference.

“We from emerging countries have a natural resilience, given our particular local challenges”

added Paula, before wrapping up the discussion. This sentiment is shared by the organizing team, and clearly reflects the spirit of students that aim and prepare to lead a better future for EM regions. 

The event was a great success and generated much excitement for future editions!

Congratulations to the organizing team on a wonderful event and thank you for contributing this article!

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Camille Chow View more

Associate Director, Admissions (MBA '16)

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