All Eyes on Africa

Management education promises to play a crucial role in transforming Africa’s economic future.
All Eyes on Africa

Foreign investment may not be the only—or even the best—solution to the seemingly intractable problems that African countries face. The widespread availability of quality management education could be the key to ending years of political instability, poverty, and pandemics.

That’s the belief and mission of a growing number of business educators around the world who have made Africa a central part of their teaching and scholarship. When schools on the international stage engage in active partnerships and academic exchanges with African institutions, they argue, both sides come out ahead. They not only develop their faculty’s scholarship and enrich their students’ educations, but also significantly contribute to strengthening the African economy, says Guy Pfefferman, director of the Global Business School Network. GBSN was formed by the International Finance Corporation to enhance the quality of business education in emerging markets.

“Business schools preach corporate social responsibility, but they do precious little of it themselves,” says Pfefferman. “If they have any social conscience on an international scale, educators who study entrepreneurship, CSR, or global business need to include Africa as part of their international activities.”

Pfefferman and others are making a strong case to the world’s business schools, urging them to make Africa a central priority. Through partnerships and exchanges of best practices, they argue, African business schools can continue to build their capacity to educate qualified managers—and become crucial catalysts for a stronger African economy.

Management—the Missing Piece

A large piece missing from the African puzzle is management education, says Pfefferman. He notes that in Nigeria alone there are close to 500 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) dedicated to addressing the spread of AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis; yet only one meets the management standards required to receive money from the Global Fund.

“That’s an absolute calamity,” says Pfefferman. “If those 500 NGOs could send their people for basic business training—in areas such as management, bookkeeping, inventory control, and human resources—they could also become eligible for these funds. That would dramatically increase the number of people who could be treated for these diseases.”

Management skills are also in painfully short supply in other sectors, he adds. “Managers of even large companies keep books because they have to keep books, but they don’t relate those numbers to their management decisions,” says Pfefferman. “Business schools need to teach these firms to focus on quantifiable issues.”

“Business schools on the African continent are still trying to adjust to and address the impact of years of bureaucracy.”
—Brent Chrite, Arizona State University

Unfortunately, most African business schools aren’t yet up to the challenge of providing that much-needed training. Because many are government-sponsored, they are hindered by political instability and a lack of public funding. Many professors have had little exposure to modern business education; as a result, they still teach via the traditional lecture format rather than via case studies and hands-on projects.

Given these limitations, economic development has been slow, says Brent Chrite, associate dean and director of the MBA program at the Eller School of Management at Arizona State University in Tucson. He also is the former director of the South Africa Initiatives Office at the Center for Afro-American and African Studies at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

“Students and faculty have grown up in an environment where equity is more important than equality, where universal access is more important than impact, and where maintaining societal norms is more important than transforming the economy,” says Chrite. “Business schools on the African continent are still trying to adjust to and address the impact of years of bureaucracy.”

Moreover, when local business schools are weak, a region’s best and brightest often choose to travel abroad for their educations, says Michael Graglia, projects officer with GBSN. What’s worse, once they graduate, these newly trained individuals often do not return to their native countries. Stronger African business schools will translate into more talent staying at home—where it’s needed most.

“It seems wrong to me that so many African citizens are writing huge checks to the Harvards and Columbias of the world,” says Graglia. “Many of those people would stay in their home countries if they could get a great education at a tenth of the price. By strengthening the local educational offerings, we train more people locally and keep that money and talent in the country.”

Building a Network

So far, GBSN has offered a variety of opportunities for faculty among its member schools to participate in exchanges with African institutions. Through three GBSN pilot projects, professors have traveled to Kenya, Ghana, and Nigeria to mentor faculty and write case studies. In GBSN’s Pan-African workshop, visiting faculty helped more than 60 African faculty learn new teaching techniques based on case study and experiential learning.

“We look to the strongest African business schools and then raise the bar on what they are doing to improve their regional market.”
—Michael Graglia, Global Business School Network

In addition, Pfefferman recently founded the Management Education Resource Consortium (MERC) to create alliances between schools and facilitate the sharing of best practices in business education. MERC has worked with business schools to strengthen micro, small, and medium enterprises in Kenya and Senegal. Eventually, the organization plans to enhance the practice of management in sectors such as healthcare, media, natural resources, and NGOs.

Most recently, MERC became the administrator of two fellowships sponsored by Johnson & Johnson. Through the fellowships, two African management professors will spend two months studying the health sector at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business in Durham, North Carolina. The Johnson & Johnson fellows also will spend one week at the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Graglia believes that such a system of scholarly exchange between public and private business schools can go a long way to help Africa’s institutions improve their capacity to teach management. “At GBSN, we look to the strongest African business schools and then raise the bar on what they are doing to improve their regional markets,” says Graglia. “We do interventions on their curricula and encourage case writing.”

That network of exchange is building. In October 2005, 20 institutions came together to form the African Association of Business Schools, with the help of GBSN. The AABS set an important precedent for global management education. For the first time, African business schools banded together to exchange ideas, improve curricula, and discuss the future of management education. Before, for all of its size, Africa and its business schools had been largely invisible; now, as part of an established association, they can speak with one voice and purpose.

Just before the inaugural meeting of AABS, Lagos Business School in Nigeria and the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) in Cape Town, South Africa, jointly hosted a workshop at Pan-African University in Lekki, Nigeria, to dis¬cuss ways to improve the teaching and curricula at business schools across the continent.

Nick Binedell, acting chairman of AABS and founding director of GIBS, notes that these exchanges of best practices don’t just benefit African institutions. They also offer global business schools opportunities to participate in one of the world’s most fascinating markets.

“Africa is home to one in eight people in the world. Its economy is small, but it’s a place where multinationals earn the highest return on investment. Africa has lessons to teach that business schools on other continents should find incredibly interesting,” says Binedell. “We want to foster more collaboration with African institutions. We want to partner with other schools, not just receive support.”

‘From Dust to Diamonds’

While Africa’s problems are far from solved, the continent offers a rich array of opportunities for faculty and students to learn about entrepreneurship, venture capitalism, sustainable development, developing economies, and other essential subjects in the global business curriculum, says Binedell.

“The issues businesses deal with here are extraordinary.
Until people spend time in Africa, they don’t understand what poverty really is.”
—Nick Binedell, acting chairman of AABS and founding director of GIBS

“People who visit are enriched by exposure to the cultural diversity, the challenges of a developing economy, and political dynamics that are completely different from what they’re used to,” says Binedell. “They leave with the idea that much more is possible here than they ever believed.”

Binedell emphasizes Africa’s importance to the global business curriculum. “When business schools in the West are improving their MBA programs, they’re trying to polish diamonds. Here, we’re trying to go from dust to diamonds,” he says. “The issues businesses deal with here are extraordinary. Until people spend time in Africa, they don’t understand what poverty really is.”

These educators have one message for the global business school community: In the excitement about markets in Europe, China, and India, don’t forget about Africa. When students and faculty immerse themselves in the continent’s compelling and rapidly evolving markets, they may find that they must shed their long-held misconceptions. In the process, they can build a more comprehensive worldview and develop a clearer understanding of what Africa has to offer.

For more information about the Global Business School Network, the Management Education Resource Consortium, or the Association of African Business Schools, visit their Web sites at www.ifc.org/gbsn, www.mercnetwork.org, and www.aabschools.com, respectively.