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Cass MBAs Just Went On An International Elective To Cuba — This Is Why

The simmering of relations between Havana and Washington has opened access to business globally

Sat Jul 16 2016

Could European business education be coming to Cuba? In the words of Sionade Robinson, associate dean at Cass Business School in London, “We were thrilled and excited by the opportunity.”

The simmering of relations between Havana and Washington has opened access to business and business schools globally. And Cass claims it’s the first in Europe to begin exploring future collaborations in research, projects and education with the Caribbean island state.

Some 22 Cass MBAs visited Cuba in June to meet businesses preparing for a new phase of economic development — and to enjoy the sun, rum and cigars. A number of schools in the US have organized similar visits.

While academics and companies from Airbnb and Stripe to Verizon, have rushed to assess market opportunities, Cuba has been criticized for its human rights record and for its Soviet-era-styled economy.

Below, Sionade answers questions about the future of education in a nation that still bears the hallmarks of Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution — but one that holds huge potential for a mass economic and social shift. “Change is coming,” she says.

Can you provide an overview of the trip, including dates, number of students, and itinerary?

After extensive research, diplomatic liaison and relationship building, our Cuba: Facing the Sustainability Revolution elective took place with 22 MBA students during the second week of June 2016. The itinerary focused on taking students “behind the scenes” and into real businesses, meeting companies as they consider their options in a new phase of economic development. We met with executives, diplomats, residents, commentators and the emerging entrepreneurs.

We also met with banks, with sugar refining companies, energy companies, executives creating new economic zones, awe-inspiring pharmaceutical and bio-tech organizations, hospitality and tourism businesses, as well as global brands such as Havana Club (rum) and Cohiba (cigars).


International trips are common. What can MBA students get from Cuba that they cannot elsewhere?

A unique and once in a lifetime opportunity to look at the challenges in organizational design, leadership and management, as businesses in Cuba emerge from the long-standing embargo.

Cuba has run on a completely different set of values — the outcome is evident as our students explored Havana and an island [Cuba] which has the highest literacy rates in the region as well as a longer life expectancy for its people than it’s near neighbour the US. Health and education were goals of the Cuban Revolution — and the words of Fidel Castro and Comandante El Che are still evident on the walls of many organizations. But change is coming.

What impact have the warming relations between Cuba and America had on Cass’ interest in the country?

Cuba is seeking a diverse set of economic relationships for its future — it won’t all be about the US. A portfolio of relationships makes more sense as Cuba emerges.

And Cass’ expertise in finance, sustainability and entrepreneurship gives credence to a set of new relationships with Cuban government, businesses and academics. The Cass MBA program too creates opportunities for our MBAs, as responsible leaders of the future, to see new emerging business models up close. It makes perfect sense for the Cass MBA program to be the first European school to visit Cuba in this context.

Already, Cuba’s opening market has enticed companies such as Airbnb, Stripe and Verizon. Do you expect more to follow?

Yes — though Cuba too will want to create its own opportunities. Cass students met a large number of entrepreneurs, ambitious individuals seeking and growing ideas to drive economic development. Many young Cubans have left the island in recent years but as government policy changes, Cubans want to make things happen “at home”. They are highly educated and hardworking; it is really important not to underestimate what might happen there.


Yet Cuba has been criticized for its human rights record and a Soviet-style economy. Was this a concern for you? 

It was a subject that was discussed and explored. The Cass MBA program includes an ethical focus and such matters are discussed because future business leaders have a responsibility [to do so], as influential global citizens. In a similar way to our elective looking at innovation and technology in Israel and Palestine, students frequently debrief and discuss what they are hearing, seeing and thinking as they engage with these interesting locations.

The consequences of the Soviet-style economy were very evident — and as already said, so are the stated goals of the revolution in education and health. In the latter for example, Cuba has achieved significant progress in eliminating meningitis and in curing diabetic ulcers.

What opportunities for integration with Cuba do you see for the business school?

We were thrilled and excited by the opportunity to be the first MBA program to begin to engage across a wide range of future collaborations in research, projects and business education.

Student Reviews

Bayes Business School




On Campus

Best Journalism school in Europe

When I first stepped onto the campus of City, University of London, I knew I was in for a ride - and not just on the Tube! With its vibrant energy and an impressive repertoire of programs, City U became my home away from home. The Journalism program was kind of a big deal. Rumour was that we were the best in Europe! The lecturers were not just experts in their field; they’re practically journalistic royalty. They were invested, passionate, and had a knack for turning the most flat press release into a riveting news story. With their guidance, I’ve learned to navigate the chaotic world of media like a pro. The campus was a melting pot of every culture, being that we had such a diverse international crowd. Being in the heart of London, I had the world at my fingertips - there was always a new corner to explore, a hidden gem of a cafe to discover, or a street performer! City, University of London wasn't just a university; it was a chapter in my life story that I’ll never forget.




On Campus

Learning environment

The teacher-learner ration is manageable, giving each learner a chance to gain personal attention. It is also easier following up on the progress of a student, as the numbers per class is not large. the conducive environment for learning includes clean classes, standard desks, world class instructional facilities and the opportunity to engage lecturers even after their sessions. The team spirit at City is above board, with learners getting chance to learn both from instructors and colleagues. This is the university of choice; the place to be.




On Campus


I liked that each class had a manageable number of learners, making the professor-learner ratio favor knowledge acquisition. I also liked that study schedules were manageable, and not overwhelming. The focus on talents and gifts even within the learning environment makes it possible for learners to achieve the best of their potential, and this has worked to the advantage of those that have schooled at City, University of London




On Campus


The diversity at City University facilitates interactions and is a direction toward the unity of the world. The classes are well built to match the number and needs of all students regardless of the elements of diversity that set people apart. The use of technology in delivery makes learning even more interesting and achievable. At City University there is no distinction pegged on the issues that make people unique.




On Campus


The team of lecturers at the Uiversity are well experienced. Their level of insight and the methodologies of delivery works for the interes of the leaeners. My learning experience was largely boosted by the level of knowledge of the professors at the institution, and their passion to transfer the same to learners. I appreciate every class I attended because of the level of insight I was able to gather




On Campus

The best university I’ve been to

The campus and the people I've met have made it a wonderful experience. I was reared in a small town with a graduating class of only 88 individuals, so moving to City University was a huge adjustment for me. My dorm has more residents than my whole high school combined! I enjoy the atmosphere here, and everyone is so friendly. Outstanding academic options and a stunning campus. Really great from beginning to end. The educators genuinely love what they do, and the students are ready to learn. On or around college, there is always something to do with friends, and the social scene is particularly warm.




On Campus

Bayes Business School

As a student at City university attending Bayes Business School I would totally recommend choosing this university as the experience is exceptional with great social networking opportunities . Professors are significantly helpful, delivering with excellence and professionalism. Everyone is happy to help and make you feel welcomed in such an esteem university as City, offering exceptional development and guidance through out the course.




On Campus

Economics and Politics

Incredibly amazing university, the way they polish students and help them boost their morale and think intellectually is worthwhile. Many universities have international partnerships to allow exchanges between their students. The most obvious subjects for these opportunities would be those that involve languages, and the study of people and places.




On Campus

Clinical biology

I really like it it’s perfect for me with not too many people and not too few either. All the modules are amazing. I love the toy bar. I love all the societies that I’ma part of. Especially the colour Bollywood society