Companies in Brussels taking interest in Africa, says Thierno Seydou Diop

By Joel Savage

Senegalese Thierno Seydou Diop works with Schuman Associates, to formulate and implement business development strategies, but also with the client subsidiaries and the beneficiaries in Africa. With more than 12 years experience in development issues and wide experience working with the European Commission and EU Member State funding in Africa, Thierno says  “I’m happy I see more and more companies in Brussels, either consultancies or legal firms, investment companies or banks, taking an interest in Africa.”

Born into a Senegal diplomatic family, Thierno thinks more people will come from Africa to work in European affairs in Brussels, although his own path was far from direct. He spent his early years in the Middle East before returning to his country to complete his schooling. He went on to study international relations, political science and international law at the Sorbonne in Paris and public administration at the École Nationale d’Administration.

Thierno Seydou Diop, Africa Specialist (Schuman Associates) and Yves de Rosée, Head of Secretariat for the EU-Africa Infrastructure Trust Fund at conference.

Diop started his career in Paris in banking and financial services, but increasingly felt the need to renew his African connection. He achieved this through microfinance company PlaNet Finance, setting up its office in Dakar and networks throughout West Africa. “After 12 years in Paris, it was a sort of resurrection to return to Africa and see the difference you can make if you are involved with people on a day-to-day basis, working to find solutions to their needs,” he says.

Initially, the aim was to develop the local microfinance sector, providing credit and other financial services to people usually ignored by banks so that they could start or develop small businesses. But in time Diop’s office also launched its own microfinance facility.

Family ties drew him back to Europe and the job of Africa specialist with Schuman Associates. This was closely linked to the European Development Fund (EDF), the EU’s main source of aid for Africa, then beginning its tenth cycle. “Our main role was to show the clients where the money is going in Africa, how they can benefit from this funding, who the main decision-makers and beneficiaries are, and how they can work with them.”

Most of these clients were European companies looking for a way into African markets and to develop business there. “It was about working around the whole project cycle,” Diop says. “So, knowing the exact time-frames for projects, the criteria for access, the competitors and how clients could position themselves and so on.”

Another part of the job was training company account managers in EU funding and processes. “They know exactly how to develop their products and services, and how to sell them, but not the technical requirements of the Brussels labyrinth.” This remains Diop’s main role although, as the tenth EDF has moved towards its close this year, he has been increasingly busy considering opportunities offered by the next phase of aid funding.

“There are new priorities, mainly around energy, transport, food security, agriculture etc, and also combining different instruments, using grants to leverage money for larger projects, with the European Investment Bank or the country’s own resources.” Schuman Associates stands for success in business. They will work with you at all stages of the project bidding process including consortium building, identification of experts, stakeholder outreach and quality control of the proposal.

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