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Help Wanted: A Million African Managers by 2023


Help Wanted: A Million African Managers by 2023

Photograph by Gallery Stock

It’s a goal so ambitious it nearly seems unattainable, and it might very well be. The African Management Initiative (AMI), a group created last May by several prominent foundations and nonprofits, wants to create 1 million qualified and effective African managers by 2023 to help drive the continent’s economic growth. Accomplishing such a scale on a continent where top-quality business schools are in short supply will be an enormous challenge.

In a research report this month, the group found that Africa has only about 90 business schools offering an MBA, fewer than 10 of which measure up to international standards and most of which are less than 20 years old. (India, by contrast, has 1,500 business schools.) To date, the AMI has two corporate partners and funding from the Lundin Foundation and the Tony Elumelu Foundation, nonprofits that invest in African businesses. (The amounts have not been disclosed.) The severity of the management gap in Africa is daunting, says Guy Pfeffermann, the chief executive and chairman of the Global Business School Network, a nonprofit that works to improve the quality of business education in emerging markets, and a member of the AMI steering team.

AMI’s founders say it’s not realistic to expect that the million middle managers they are targeting will necessarily attend business school and get an MBA in the next decade. Rather, they are trying to create a series of initiatives that will help African managers access management training more readily, from a virtual campus to a blueprint for a $2 million business school that AMI hopes can be replicated throughout the continent.

Bloomberg Businessweek’s Alison Damast recently spoke with Pfeffermann, a former chief economist for the World Bank, about AMI, the group’s progress so far, and  obstacles the group faces in reaching its vision.

Is it really feasible that 1 million people in Africa will be able to get enough high-quality management training in the next decade to meet AMI’s goal?

It is an aspiration. You have to set your sights high and do the best you can. It is certainly the rallying point. If you look at the UN’s Millennial Development Goals, they sounded ambitious, but it helped bureaucrats, aid agencies, and government officials set targets and meet standards. If you don’t have an ambitious target, no one will rise to the occasion.

What are some of the challenges companies in Africa face in getting well-trained middle and low-level managers?

Employers are tearing their hair out trying to find employable local talent. There is a whole segment of companies that have weak middle managers simply because there really isn’t that kind of supply of trained middle mangers in Africa.

How does the AMI plan on training these mangers, and what is some of the progress it has made so far?

One of the things that we’re doing is creating what they call a business school in a box, or a blueprint for a $2 million business school. It’s a kind of template for any kind of government, philanthropist, or international organization that wishes to establish a new business school. Another thing is a Mobile Business Clinic, a management training program for middle managers in small and midsize companies that’s being piloted in Ghana right now. What has really advanced since last May is a sort of LinkedIn (LNKD) network that AMI has created called the Virtual Campus. It aims to establish a network of competent, well-trained African managers who uphold high ethical standards. It’s only a few months old, but it’s beginning to pick up.

What are some of the main challenges that AMI faces?

First of all, it is capturing the attention of funders. The hope and the expectation is that sooner or later the big donors and aid agencies—like the World Bank, the African Development Bank, the Gates Foundation and other foundations—are going to realize that they themselves are not going to have successful programs unless they have well-trained mangers in Africa, and they’ll put big bucks into it. Then, even if you get the funding, there comes the question of training, attracting, and retaining really good teachers. That’s where the Global Business School Network comes in. Once someone wants to create a new business school and has people who can mentor professors, we can kick in, because we have 10,000 professors in our network.

Join the discussion on the Bloomberg Businessweek Business School Forum, visit us on Facebook, and follow @BWbschools on Twitter.

Damast is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek.

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