Home>Babacar Seck: "No university can succeed without its Alumni”

27.04.2022

Babacar Seck: "No university can succeed without its Alumni”

Portrait of Babacar Seck (credits: Sciences Po)

Originally from Dakar, Senegal, and Auvergne, France, Babacar Seck completed his university studies at Sciences Po, first in the Le Havre campus of the Undergraduate College and then in Paris to pursue his studies with the Master in Finance and Strategy. Today, he is an investment manager at Proparco and President of Sciences Po’s Cercle Afrique. He tells us about his career and his dedication to the African continent.

What made you decide to join Sciences Po after high school?

In high school, I had a very scientific profile - I specialized in maths in my final year - and I was more inclined to become a specialist engineer in renewable energy. I wanted to participate in the development of the African continent and the question of access to energy seemed essential to me.

As I was also interested in other subjects, I wanted to make my decision after an exhaustive study of the field of possibilities. I read an entire course guide, which was rather indigestible but very complete. That's how I discovered Sciences Po, whose description corresponded exactly to my interests: diplomacy, international relations, economics, current affairs. I discovered a school that was founded to learn how to solve our societies’ problems, a school founded to achieve what I aspired to, and in which I recognised myself.

I chose to follow the Europe-Asia programme on campus in Le Havre because China was emerging on the international scene, and I wanted to understand its implications. I also thought that learning Mandarin could be useful professionally. The two years I spent in Le Havre were exceptionally enriching. The campus was very international with a majority of foreign students - mainly coming from Asia.

They were students with very different backgrounds and experiences from my own, with a completely different approach to university. In France - or in Senegal - we are more academic and our activities were more focused on leisure than associative or entrepreneurial. Before Sciences Po, I played basketball at the Dakar University Club and had created a small philosophy club, but it was not very structured. In Le Havre, I was lucky enough to work with Korean and Singaporean students who had already managed associations or large projects and who were not afraid of anything! I learned a lot from their sense of initiative, which allowed me to gain confidence in myself and to get involved in exciting projects, especially with the Sports Association and the English Debating Society.

After your Bachelor's degree, you entered the Master in Finance and Strategy at Sciences Po. Why did you choose this course?

After my Bachelor's degree, everything interested me, but what I really wanted was to have a profound impact on the economy. I aspired to work for African development, and I found that everything related to public administration on the continent was not efficient enough, and above all very dependent on politics. I wanted to have an impact on the development of Africa in my lifetime. I also felt it was necessary to foster the development of a strong local financial and private sector that was less dependent on international funding. It was certainly also my scientific background that influenced me, this desire to see concrete and measurable results.

After four years at AXA, first at the Presidency and then at the Strategic Management Department, I am now an investment manager at Proparco - the subsidiary of the French Development Agency dedicated to investment in the private sector. I specialise in investment in start-ups, financial services, and venture capital and private equity funds.

In short, I am responsible for acquiring stakes in promising companies or financial entities in developing countries and then acting as an active shareholder, to accompany their growth and increase their impact.

This is a position in which you must be able to analyse contemporary issues and the political and geopolitical context of the geographical areas in which we invest. You have to be able to apply critical thinking to business, while building a strong relationship with entrepreneurs. It was Sciences Po that enabled me to acquire both this critical sense and this capacity for analysis, as well as the taste for relationships and teamwork that are essential in this field.

You are now president of Sciences Po Cercle Afrique. What is it exactly?

The Cercle Afrique is an entity within Sciences Po Alumni. The group has existed for over 10 years now and our activities are centred on three main themes: the transmission between generations of students, the debate of ideas concerning Africa and the desire to keep the Sciences Po Alumni community alive. We are motivated by the desire to strengthen the links between Sciences Po and Africa while bringing the voice of Africa to Sciences Po, and promoting equity in all its dimensions.

We organise conferences to present the African perspective on contemporary issues, which is often missing in the media. One of them, organised with the African Business Lawyers Club, was on the issue of business law in Africa. It brought together over 200 people, including eminent lawyers and jurists. The participants came from all over France because this type of event had never been done before. At the end of the conference, the participants stayed for several hours to discuss, connect, some found internships, others found answers to their career choices, etc.

We have also created several platforms, including a WhatsApp group with more than 250 members where opportunities, job offers, advice and ideas are exchanged on a daily basis.

Finally, we are developing several mentoring programmes. One of the most beautiful projects we have carried out in this area concerns a partnership with several public high schools in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire. We introduced them to Sciences Po, and they regularly recommend candidates to us, whom we coach. For example, we have helped several young women to join Sciences Po by accompanying them in obtaining scholarships and administrative procedures. We are particularly proud of this because these are brilliant students who come from underprivileged backgrounds, who did not know about Sciences Po, and who needed this little push to build the best possible future for themselves.

What is the role of alumni in the links between Sciences Po and Africa?

Sciences Po's offer in relation to Africa has been greatly enriched over the past 10 years and there are more and more graduates who want to work on or for the continent.

Once they graduate, it is very important for them to maintain the intellectual stimulation that Sciences Po offered them - with its associations, its conferences, its debates - and that you don't necessarily find in the professional world. Beyond the networking, this is what Sciences Po really gives us after graduation.

Conversely, I am deeply convinced that no university can succeed without its alumni, including when it comes to Africa. The university’s approach to the continent is still quite young and alumni have a lot to contribute in terms of experience, strategic vision and professional opportunities. I have already mentioned mentoring, but we are also working with Sciences Po to set up a scholarship fund that will make it possible to finance more deserving African female students whose financial resources are limited. This is also the role of the alumni: to accompany Sciences Po in the implementation of its strategy.

The main concern of this collaboration between the school, its departments and its alumni is to find the best framework to build bridges and develop even more synergies.

Within the scope of the Cercle Afrique we already see a lot of connections developing, but these are mostly ad hoc and spontaneous relationships. What we would like to do is to structure the frameworks for these exchanges and networks to reach even more people and projects.

How would you like to see relations between Sciences Po and Africa evolve?

The continent needs more well-trained executives and leaders because too few of them have access to quality education - often for financial reasons - and I am convinced that Sciences Po has a role to play in this respect. To do this, we must go even further in including students from Africa - those who are not part of the local elite and who cannot afford to pay tuition fees. I think this is one of the big issues in terms of education and equity.

At the Cercle Afrique, we are also campaigning for the creation of a study or research centre specialising on the African continent. There is a need to set up a sort of hub which would act as a bridge between Africa and Europe to promote exchanges and research, and Sciences Po could take on this role, at least in part.

Africa also has a major role to play in the development of Sciences Po. It is the most dynamic continent in the world in many respects, with its young population and very strong economic growth. It is also a continent that is increasingly stable politically and shares many European values. At a time when fundamentally different models of society are competing, it seems to us essential for an institution with democratic roots such as Sciences Po to play the role of partner and relay for initiatives whose values and objectives it shares, especially in Africa.

The continent is an immense source of innovation for Sciences Po, for its students but also for its researchers, with totally new and complementary fields of research compared to what has already been done, and I think that this can really contribute to the development and influence of Sciences Po in the coming years.

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