As the economic development community is stuck at home, fDI is reaching out to professionals on the FDI frontline, who are facing the biggest global challenge in recent memory. 

Azerbaijan and its capital, Baku, have long pegged their fortunes to the oil industry, while also encouraging some level of diversification. With the pandemic still in full flow and oil prices plummeting, Javid Mustafayev is working to upgrade the digital communications strategy of his agency, InvestBaku. 

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Q: What does Baku look like these days? 

A: Usually Baku is very crowded, business people are everywhere, and most of them from international companies, which is why now it’s really surprising to see the city empty. People are staying home, business networking has stopped, and we only work on the internet. Expats with families are staying in the city; but if they don’t have a family here, they are going back to their countries. 

Q: What has it been like in the past few weeks for InvestBaku? 

A: We started working from home. All the planned events we were to attend got cancelled or postponed; we can’t generate those leads any more. It really affected all the business, especially investment promotion. We started training employees for specific targets: we will need to create digital trade shows, digital lead generation systems and highlight this on our portal so that foreign investors are aware of them. Investors also started to enquire whether we have projects in sectors such as medical technologies and bioengineering. 

Q: Can you develop those kinds of investment projects in Baku? 

A: We don’t have those projects at the moment, but we will need to focus on them more because the requests will increase, especially in innovative projects with a technology component. We need to prepare and speak to the government to create a database of those targeted projects. I see them as shared projects between local companies and foreign companies that have experience in these sectors and want to bring some projects to the region. After the short-term crisis of the next six months, we will have a clearer map of the sectors that need to be redesigned. 

Q: How are you adjusting to plummeting oil prices? 

A: The government is making support available to small and medium-sized enterprises because they are mainly active in non-oil sectors; we need to promote non-oil sectors such as tourism and agriculture. 

Q: What is the mission of InvestBaku at this moment? 

A: We have to work closely with potential and existing investors, as well as update our system. Due to the coronavirus situation, most investors are in a wait-and-see mode, and have stopped designing new projects. Starting an investment project in this period is not that feasible because borders are closed. During these weeks, IPAs need to update their systems to adapt to the digital environment through tools like virtual reality as well, while redesigning those investment sectors to promote after the crisis. We also need to create a support programme for existing investors. 

Q: What leadership are you providing? 

A: I’m trying to call every one of our contacts. This is a job that the senior management has to do – we need to look after them and speak to them. Also, as the team leader, I’m designing a training programme for our staff and a mission roadmap for the next three months. It’s not just only about future projects, but also the continuity of existing projects. 

Q: Do you expect digital communication to play a bigger role in investment promotion in the future? 

A: After this period, some people will focus on working remotely and travelling less. Work will change, we won’t have to travel that much – if we can set up digital meetings, there is no need to travel. Investors can prepare projects remotely, then travelling will still be required when negotiations approach the more advanced stage. 

Q: What do you forecast for the mid and long terms? 

A: Companies will decrease their workforce and work new, post-coronavirus plans for when the crisis is over. In Baku we need to develop incentive programmes for specific investment projects, and customise our marketing message accordingly. We have to work on sectors such as tourism, agriculture and innovative projects, attracting new investors to work with the government on joint projects. 

Javid Mustafayev is the managing director of InvestBaku. 

If you work in economic development or investment promotion and want to share your experience in dealing with the coronavirus crisis, get in touch at fDi@ft.com