18 October 2012

Africa: Building Management Education Capacity in Africa


"We are only at the beginning of this effort to transform management education in Africa. It may not look anything like the MBA we are used to, but when it's done well, it can make a world of difference."

Business schools have been criticized for breeding selfish MBAs who plunged the world into financial crisis. But in Africa, this is a non-issue. Banks are conservative - perhaps too conservative - and the overriding problem is the extreme scarcity of local management talent.

Businesses, NGOs, government organizations all suffer from the shortage. I saw it all too often in 40 years as a development economist. Aid would be wasted, investment dollars would disappear, service programs would fail - all because there weren't people on the ground with the skills and knowledge they needed to be good managers.

It is well established that education is a critical component to development, and it is laudable that the international community has made such a firm commitment to ensuring that every child gets quality primary schooling. But it isn't enough to know how to read and add if you want to start, manage or grow a thriving business, or a successful NGO or effective social program. Primary education is just the first step, and an important one no doubt, in building a workforce with the skills and knowledge necessary to drive economic and social development.

Local management education institutions that combine international best practice with local relevance are the key to building the pool of management talent that Africa needs to generate prosperity. They provide companies, NGOs, government and small business with quality managers that have cultural understanding no expatriate armed with a foreign MBA program can match. Just as importantly, they lessen the devastating effects of "brain drain" of a community's best and brightest to institutions and jobs in more prosperous nations.

Right now the high-quality business schools serving Africa are far too small. They do what they can to grow the talent pool, butAfrica's rapid economic growth has vastly outstripped the supply of relevant local managers.

Africa's management schools need far more resources, in both talent and treasure. That is why my organization, the Global Business School Network (GBSN), teamed up with the Association of African Business Schools, the Tony Elumelu Foundation and the Lundin Foundation to launch the African Management Initiative (AMI) this May. AMI is a new movement that seeks to mobilize funding for business education for the Continent, while serving as a hub to promote excellence in management throughout Africa.

The goal of AMI is to equip a million managers with the necessary skills by 2023 by extending access to quality local management education. In their recent report, "Catalyzing Management Development in Africa," AMI found that many large companies are forced to import talent or risk poaching from competitors when they do train employees locally. Entrepreneurs can't find enough people to help them expand their businesses, stifling growth. NGOs, too, have trouble expanding, and can't always assure funders of sufficient professionalism. And last but not least, investors who would be putting money into businesses in Africa often find that the poor management of these enterprises makes them bad investments.

The report also notes that issues like the cost of traditional management education, the location of schools in urban centers and poor primary and secondary education systems are major barriers to growing the necessary management talent pool. Management education needs to be accessible, interactive and practical, connecting people to quality, locally relevant information and services.

We are only at the beginning of this effort to transform management education in Africa. It may not look anything like the MBA we are used to, but when it's done well, it can make a world of difference. That's why we need a global commitment to build management education capacity forAfrica. It will take the international community of management educators, development professionals and corporate leaders working together to build the infrastructure, programs and human capacity needed. But in my 10 years as head of the Global Business School Network I have seen how creativity, vision and determination can develop worthwhile programs that serve the needs of Africa's businesses and people.

Guy Pfeffermann is founder and CEO of the Global Business School Network

Focus on Education

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