On a warm, still evening, a group of young and successful business school alumni sit in heated debate at a table in Rick’s Café – a recreation of the saloon bar from the 1942 film Casablanca that attracts tourists and expats alike.

The five graduates from the Ecole Supérieure du Commerce et des Affaires (Esca) cannot decide whether to envy or pity their neighbours in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt – pragmatically weighing the pursuit of democracy against the potential loss of gains made by a dynamic Moroccan economy.

Like them, their alma mater, the Casablanca-based Esca is young, outward-looking and ambitious, eager to make its mark on the world. Having already struck partnerships with French schools Grenoble Graduate School of Business and Edhec, and now seeking accreditation from the US-based AACSB, Esca’s ambition is to stretch both north and south.

It is looking to position itself as a business education hub for up to 500 African “high potentials” – business school postgraduates from sub-Saharan Africa seeking experience in Europe and the wider world.

From January, Inseam – its Institute for Euro-African Management – will offer a part-time advanced management programme for executives, followed in October by an MSc in business development, taught in French and English and focusing on value creation and the development of sustainable activities in African economies.

Students will spend half of the two-year course in Casablanca, the other in Grenoble. Up to six more programmes, including an MBA, a DBA and two masters in logistics and purchasing management will follow within five years says Thami Ghorfi, director of Esca and a professor of change management and communication strategy.

Esca was established in 1992 and offers masters programmes, an MBA, mainly for domestic students, an executive MBA and trains about 1,000 executives in Moroccan companies a year.

At the rim of the Arab world and on its frontier with the west, Casablanca is Morocco’s biggest city and commercial hub. Its rocky corniche – a long, Atlantic ridge of donkey rides, beach clubs, cineplexes, McDonald’s and KFC outlets – is bookended by the Hassan II mosque, the world’s fifth largest, built at a cost of $800m and the $250m Morocco Mall, which when it opens this month, will be north Africa’s largest. There is pride that Morocco is the economic dynamo of the Maghreb, riding a decade of economic progress.

“Casablanca is the western part of Arab world, and a gateway between Africa and the western world,” says Prof Ghorfi. The Moroccan government, he adds, views business education as vital to advance its strategies in new and emerging industries, as well as in tourism and agribusiness.

“Morocco has good experience in building private-public partnerships to drive these strategies and business education is considered very important.” The country has about 35 state-funded business schools and another 110 private business schools. The number of students enrolling on these courses has increased on average by 12 per cent a year for the past five years, says Prof Ghorfi.

He describes the prime objective of Inseam as “identifying, revealing, accompanying and developing talents in Africa so that they can become powerful developing contributors to African businesses on the international scene”.

Inseam is a partnership between Esca and Grenoble. Each will provide faculty although Prof Ghorfi says that project manager Mounir Chaouki is also seeking to recruit faculty from across Africa. And supporting Inseam will be a network of African business schools; representatives from 13 schools in Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Madagascar, Mali, Morocco, Senegal, Togo and Tunisia met in Grenoble this month for the first time.

Prof Ghorfi says the Inseam network gives African schools the opportunity to offer their students an international postgraduate option once they have finished their degree programmes.

Ceibs, the Shanghai-based business school, launched an executive MBA programme in Ghana two years ago – the prelude to opening a campus in Accra. At that time, Pedro Nueno, Ceibs’ president and the Ghana programme’s pioneer, called Africa “the last big opportunity on the planet” for business schools.

According to Prof Ghorfi, Inseam’s ability to meet the needs of students from the 31 francophone African nations is its distinctive characteristic. “Here we can teach students – from Benin and Burkina Faso and Senegal and Togo – in both English and French,” he says.

Thierry Grange, Grenoble director, says Inseam’s strength will also lie in its partnership with local schools.

“We [Grenoble] have found that whether in the US, Russia or Morocco, it is better to rely on the local people who know the demand and the competition,” he says.

“The payback for Grenoble and its students is that through these partnerships we can provide knowledge of other cultures and markets such as Morocco.”

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