Founder & Executive Chairman of IBDE, Rudi Guraziu, tells us why an increasing number of diplomatic missions are using the organisation as a gateway to the business world
1. Can you tell us a bit about your background and what led you to set up International Business and Diplomatic Exchange (IBDE)?
Before founding IBDE, I had offered my international experience and expertise pro-bono, discussing with several embassies the opportunities for their own respective parliaments to enhance relationships between businesspeople and parliamentarians.
My entrepreneurial instincts gathered through various roles in a family owned business, together with my engagement with embassies whilst studying international relations, led to my establishing IBDE in 2010 at the Belgian Ambassador’s Residence in Belgrave Square.
Furthermore, my broad hands-on management experience obtained in an atmosphere of conflict in Kosovo and the Balkans during the 1990s, meant I saw first-hand how business is affected by conflict, and how business contributes to economic recovery. This, and the importance of international collaboration also contributed to the original IBDE concept. Of course, our success is thanks to all my colleagues, Advisory Board and our members and partners.
2. What is IBDE doing differently to the existing business-orientated work conducted by diplomatic missions?
IBDE is valued as a unique organisation facilitating international dialogue between senior diplomats and business leaders in a multilateral context. For example, we bring together diplomats from various regions alongside international business. Most other organisations (including trade associations and chambers of commerce) tend to work occasionally with individual embassies. We do that too, but most of our work focuses on multilateral engagements. IBDE’s main aim is to bring key decision-makers together and build trusted relationships to help inform policy-making on international trade and investment policy, not only in London but in other world capitals.
London is a leading global financial centre, and governments use their diplomatic missions here to seek international investors for strategic national projects. We have effectively facilitated tailored programmes that have produced invaluable insights for both governments and businesses seeking investment opportunities. We are privileged that an increasing number of diplomats use IBDE as a gateway to the business world. I am also delighted that the diplomatic community voted for IBDE to win Diplomat magazine’s ‘2019 Outstanding Contribution to Economic Diplomacy’ Award.
3. How has IBDE’s ability to draw together diplomats from the four corners of the world aided policy debate and recommendation?
One of IBDE’s greatest achievements has been its ability to deliver first-class events both in terms of the quality of their content and the seniority and relevance of speakers and delegates. This high-level engagement under Chatham House rule has significantly helped both corporations’ and governments’ policymaking, especially on issues impacting international trade and investment. Meetings provide invaluable insight for our members as they contemplate their own responses to important issues – be it the impact of technology and innovation on international business, or the need for business and governments to collaborate more closely in devising sound policies to achieve more sustainable and inclusive growth.
The fact that IBDE is a non-lobbying organisation means that we can provide an independent platform for debate and the exchange of views on topical issues. IBDE provides diplomats with a ‘safe space’ for their missions to engage in a multilateral discussion on issues of global concern, taking into account the risks to business.
4. Could you tell our readers a little more about IBDE’s ‘Five Themes’ for 2019?
Brexit and other major global developments provide significant challenges for the UK and the international community. In response to these global events that are growing in significance for both the business and diplomatic communities, we have been focusing on five major themes: Inclusive Globalisation / Capitalism; Brexit; Promotion of Trade, Investment and Exports; Technology and Innovation, and Geopolitics. These issues cover populism, sustainability, foreign direct investment, investor protection, supply chains and ethics, cybersecurity, data, impact of Artificial Intelligence and robotics, diversity and inclusion and much more. In October, we are hosting a working lunch with the heads of economic affairs from London-based embassies, so they can provide their input into our programmes and policy initiatives for 2020, before we put next year’s strategy and work programme to our Advisory Board for their insight and endorsement.
5. Please outline IBDE’s role in the Liverpool International Business Festival.
IBDE was selected as the Official International Delivery Partner for the International Business Festival held in Liverpool in 2014 and 2016. Launched by Prime Minister, Rt Hon David Cameron MP, the festival attracted thousands of delegates from over 100 countries. IBDE delivered a diverse programme, with presentations from many continents that are not usually represented on such stages. We have also delivered a number of our own flagship events including the Global Economic Forum and International Banking and Finance Forum.
6. How has BREXIT shaped the thematic issues discussed by IBDE? Has BREXIT been a magnet for increasing interest/number of attendees to events?
Having hosted over 40 high-level meetings on the subject, IBDE has played an important and constructive role in the Brexit debate. Our seminars have been both inclusive and comprehensive in their content, offering speakers and the audience an opportunity to explore the various viewpoints. IBDE could also mitigate misinformation when there was a lot of confusion. Brexit has taken up a significant part of our working programme. Given we provide quality discussion and engagement with senior ministers, ambassadors and business leaders, the interest in membership has increased significantly since the Brexit vote. In terms of delegate participation, we can’t accommodate all those wishing to attend, but we often operate a waiting list.
7. How is IBDE’s work different today compared with the early days after its founding?
In the initial years, IBDE focused predominantly on enhancing relationships between EU embassies, and Whitehall and the City of London. Since then, we have engaged with some 120 diplomatic missions, and we cover all major regions and organisations be it EU, ASEAN or G20, and our business engagement is cross-sectoral with our members representing professional and financial services, technology, energy, mining and ICT, to name a few.
Furthermore, the Advisory Board – which is chaired by Sir Roger Gifford and includes over 40 business leaders, academics from leading universities and several distinguished ambassadors – has been a huge success.
8. What are IBDE’s major plans and priorities for the next 12 months?
We have an impressive schedule of activities coming up. We will continue to deliver our most successful programmes: ‘Meet the Ambassador;’ ‘Meet the CEO;’ ‘Meet the Minister;’ ‘Chairman’s Business Briefings;’ ‘VIP Ambassadorial Luncheons’ and ‘Briefings with Heads of Economic Affairs.’ In addition to our Annual Conference, we are considering a number of country-focused ‘Trade and Investment Forums.’ We will also continue to deliver our vision to strengthen global prosperity through dialogue and resource sharing to encourage social and economic development worldwide, and ensure that IBDE remains the platform of choice for diplomatic and global corporate representatives.
9. What does the future hold for IBDE?
Over the past nine years we have been able to successfully forge strategic partnerships with organisations including DLA Piper, Accenture and City of London Corporation, as well as with diplomatic missions and prestigious universities. As a membership organisation, funding is always an issue. But the service we offer – a forum for frank, focused debate – has never been more relevant, given the ongoing challenges globally on trade and investment, which is important at both the micro level (improving the lives of individuals), as well as at the macro level (improving growth of national economies).
We have been operating with great success in London for nearly a decade. Now, the aim is to offer these same benefits to the business and diplomatic communities based in other global capitals, starting with Brussels and Singapore where we are planning to host our first overseas events in late 2019. Over the next five years, our ambition is to establish an IBDE chapter in every major capital where there is an active international business and diplomatic community.
10. What do you think is IBDE’s greatest diplomatic challenge?
As an independent organisation, I am confident that we will be able to meet all challenges by engaging effectively and constructively with members of the business and diplomatic communities. I think the greatest challenge for London’s diplomatic community, however, will be its adjustment to a post-Brexit era, which will undoubtedly transform their current relations with the UK.
To view IBDE’s work programme visit