Shortly after writing my last blog entry on investing in Africa, I received an e-mail from the Africa Club of London Business School to attend the event "Building Business Leadership in Africa" that was hosted in our school today. I went there without really knowing who would be there and was impressed by the high profile of the speakers and audience.
The panel was made up by many Deans of the top African Business Schools (including "The LBS of Nigeria", the Lagos Business School (finally I know why my school has the domain london.edu and not lbs.edu!)) and also representatives from the Association of African Business Schools. In the audience, there were many African students or alumni from London Business School, as well as Africans working in London investment banks and consultancies, and locals from London interested in investing in Africa, including some fund managers. The panel discussion highlighted some of the issues facing African business schools that I want to mention here.
Whom do we serve?
Most African business schools are closely connected to state universities and were originally set up to serve the public sector. Over the last ten years, they have had to change to cater to the needs of multinationals for the training and development of their local staff. Additionally, the skills taught at business schools should be useful for local entrepreneurs. Depending on who your target group is, course content and style need to be very different, and it turned out most schools tried to do everything (as in the West) without a clear strategy.
Who is our competition?
There was an additional discussion of the level of aspiration African Business Schools should have. Should they try and emulate Harvard or London Business School? Is the the right model for them? Many in the audience as well as the panel agreed that doing business in Africa is not the same as doing business in the US (I especially liked the LBS Dean's joke that "just in time in Nigeria often means just in case"), and therefore the business schools should focus on providing content that is relevant for people who will do business in Africa. One useful suggestion from the audience was that instead of trying to learn from Harvard or Columbia, African Business Schools should cooperate closely with business schools in India or China, similarly countries in terms of growth (BTW did you know 7 out of the 10 fastest growing countries in the world are in Africa?) and other problems they face (corruption, bad infrastructure...).
What is our role in society?
This wasn't actually discussed directly but you could read between the lines that this wasn't very clear, and it might be tied to the lack of clarity on who the target group is. In the West, business schools are just there for people who want to go into business and make money to get their degree, learn something, expand their networks and move on. In the developing world, the same schools might be faced with much higher expectations. When people discuss business or entrepreneurship in Africa, it is always about increasing prosperity, making the countries better, improving efficiency, combating corruption etc.. That is the official story, but the question is if you serve mainly public sector workers and employees of multinationals, are you really working on the right side? Or should you build up entrepreneurial skills of the poor so that they can increase productivity and independence of the country? As I said it wasn't discussed, but I would like to know more about how these Deans actually see themselves and their roles in their country.
How do we improve teaching quality?
A large part of the discussion was centered on how to improve the quality of teaching, especially in terms of relevance for the private sector. It appeared that the links between business schools and the private sector were still quite weak (obviously there are huge differences between the schools). One idea implemented already by the Institut Superieur de Management Senegal is to exchange teachers between the African Business schools. They talked of their intents to get Western teachers to teach some courses but had not yet worked out the funding. It seems that there is no "finance professors without frontiers" organization yet. I can't believe there are no good finance professors out there who wouldn't volunteer to teach a great course in Tanzania on Kenya for a few weeks for free. Actually, the Dean of LBS mentioned that it is easer for Tanzanian or Kenyan business schools to attract volunteer professors when compared to Nigerian schools. But there was also consensus that depending on donations and aid from outside wouldn't help. So the main conclusion was that the only way improve quality was to strengthen the ties with local entrepreneurs and tailor the program and the case studies to the realities of business in Africa.