Robert Bach Casanovas, IBEI alumni 2008-09
Name and Last Name: Robert Bach Casanovas
Master studied at IBEI: Master's in International Relations
Current working company, position and city: Director of the Nairobi office – East African Markets, of Catalonia Trade & Investment, Nairobi (Kenya)
1. Why did you choose the IBEI Master’s in International Relations?
After graduating in Business Administration, I was looking for an international experience. I got the chance to do an internship in Brussels with the same organization I am currently working for. Living in the EU capital opened my eyes on what I really wanted to do for living: it had to do with international relations and development. Upon completion of the internship it came clear to me the only way to shift to this area of interest was by upgrading my educational background with a master on international relations. IBEI’s master presented itself as a sound option with highly-qualified professors, a stimulating syllabus, students from very different countries and backgrounds and a bilingual option.
2. What is your experience at IBEI?
Overall it was a great experience that met my expectations. I remember a tough first semester where I had to adjust to a completely new demanding learning system similar to the leading top schools: permanent readings, assignments and papers complemented the intense classes. I spent most of my time at the library. I did however enjoy my time as I could feel I was learning and growing. I also had the chance to meet a fantastic group of students who became not only friends but family. The rather small size of the Institute also allowed for a close contact with professors, providing for an additional enrichment.
3. Describe your career path since graduating from the IBEI
Back to Brussels. After graduating I applied for an internship at the European Commission. IBEI Master proved helpful as my application was successful as opposed to a failed one the year before. I spent 4 years in Brussels working on international development projects funded by the European Commission with a focus on African countries. That led to a challenging but enriching experience with UNDP in Mauritius. I was on my way back to Brussels for more trade-related EU-funded projects in African counties when the opportunity to go back home came up. After several years abroad there was an opening in my current organization, the innovation and business promotion agency of the Government of Catalonia. Based in Barcelona, I was in charge of managing a programme to scale-up social enterprises internationally. However, after a couple of years in Barcelona I felt I had accomplished what I wanted to do there and was looking for a new challenge. The opportunity came in-house with the proposal to open a new office in Nairobi, for the East African markets.
4. What is your professional experience (your current position, your main functions)?
I am currently the Director of the Nairobi office of Catalonia Trade & Investment, the innovation and business promotion agency of the Government of Catalonia. I opened the office in 2007 and recruited local and regional staff. From Nairobi we provide advice and services -market research, business strategy, market positioning, business cultural adaptation, negotiation, economic diplomacy- for Catalan businesses with a vocation to expand to East Africa. We are also responsible for strategic partnerships with East African innovation agents, promoting technological cooperation and technology transfer activities between Catalonia and East Africa.
5. How did the master programme prepare you for the work you're doing now?
Working in African countries is a challenging job and requires for cultural adaptation. Spending a full year immersed in a group of students from the five continents and very different backgrounds opened my mind and curiosity, which is a requirement in my current work. The master programme also provided me with analytical skills and a critical attitude, which I deem useful not only for the work I do right now but for life in general. The high workload and permanent assignments also helped develop my organizational skills. Overall, beyond the content of the courses, the master programme supported the growth of my technical, social, and organizational skills.
6. Is this more or less what you pictured yourself doing after the master programme?
Yes, indeed. I was looking for an international career working in developing countries and the master programme was the first step towards its direction. IBEI Master’s provided me with the necessary push and change of direction towards what I wanted to become professionally.
7. What advice would you give to current students who want to follow this career path? / Some advice to future IBEI students?
In my case it helped me a lot to look for people with the type of career path I wanted to follow. I would advise future IBEI students to find mentors that can help guide their steps toward what they want to become. Also, I would recommend them to have an open mind, be creative and ambitious and surround themselves with positive people that share same energy and interests.
8. What do you miss most about IBEI?
At that time, the Institute was based in El Raval. I really miss the coffee breaks in La Masia bar next to IBEI.