New Frontiers

For B-Schools, Opportunities Rise in Africa


(Corrects name of institution at the University of Michigan helping to train Rwandan women in entrepreneurship.)

After spending more than a decade working in product development for Oceanic Bank (OCEANIC:NL) in Nigeria, Henry Obike wanted to broaden his business skills and get an executive MBA in hopes of someday starting his own company. With few high-quality local options, Obike, 37, decided to apply to Harvard Business School (Harvard Full-Time MBA Profile) in Cambridge, Mass, more than 5,000 miles from his job, wife, and four children.Then he heard about a new Executive MBA program set up in Accra, Ghana, by the China Europe International Business School (CEIBS Full-Time MBA Profile), known as CEIBS, a top-ranked international business school whose main campus is in the Pudong district of Shanghai.

The CEIBS Ghana program was an instant sell for Obike, who joined its first class in the spring of 2009. Every two months, he and nine Nigerian executives fly to Ghana for eight days of classes taught by CEIBS professors in a building on Independence Avenue, amid Accra's thriving central business district. Says Obike: "It's the Harvard of Africa. Me and other Nigerians are really trying hard to take advantage of this opportunity because there's no other school like it here."

Over the last few decades, Western business schools have increasingly turned their sights on Africa, with dozens of leading schools launching faculty-exchange programs, sending classes on tours of sub-Saharan Africa, and forging partnerships with local schools. Now a handful of European, Asian, and U.S. schools are taking their involvement in the African management education scene a step further, setting up their own campuses, helping the continent's emerging economies develop executive MBA and other degree programs, and setting up academic research centers. The efforts come at a time when the management education scene in Africa has started to heat up, spurred by a growing middle class that is demanding a more Western-style business school experience, says Guy Pfefferman, chief executive officer of the Global Business School Network, a nonprofit formed by the International Finance Corp. to improve the quality of business education in emerging markets.

"a huge, unmet demand for quality"

Although Africa is the world's poorest continent, it is experiencing strong economic growth, contributing to a push for better business schools, Pfefferman says. Last year, in the midst of the worldwide economic downturn, sub-Saharan Africa's economy expanded 2.2 percent and is slated to grow by 5 percent or more annually in 2010 and 2011, according to the Washington-based International Monetary Fund.

"Business education is the fastest-growing single academic activity in Sub-Saharan Africa. It is immensely popular and very much in need, but the problem is that all but a few of the business schools are fly-by-night or not very good," says Pfefferman in an interview. "There is a huge, unmet demand for quality, so I suspect that more Western business schools may come in, since there is a market."

There are currently no business schools in sub-Saharan Africa that are accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), one of the leading accreditation agencies, says Jerry Trapnell, AACSB's vice-president and chief accreditation officer, in an interview. Some business schools in South Africa and a handful of other countries, including Nigeria, are working with the AACSB to win accreditation. "Most of them have a long way to go," he says.

CEIBS opened its Ghana program in 2009, conferring a CEIBS degree with no local academic partner—a distinction that sets it apart from most Western schools that have entered Africa, says CEIBS Africa Program Director Kwaku Atuahene-Gima in an interview. He declines to specify how much it has cost CEIBS to operate the program, but says the school has gotten financial support from donors and companies in Europe.

CEIBS' first Ghana graduating class

CEIBS is currently offering classes in a building rented from a local college in Ghana but plans eventually to build its own campus, as well as to offer executive education programs customized for local companies, a women's entrepreneurship program, and a leadership degree program. The school flies in 18 to 20 professors to teach the program and also maintains an administrative staff of six in Accra, Atuahene-Gima says.

The first executive MBA class enrolled in March of 2009, with 30 students from Ghana and 10 from Nigeria, and the school has already taken in a second cohort of 42 students. The two-year program costs students around $30,000 dollars, about half of what the same degree would cost in China, Atuahene-Gima says. The first class is set to graduate this December.

"If you're an executive in Africa and you want a good business education, you have to fly outside of Africa, so CEIBS going to Africa is to me a very radical innovation," says Atuahene-Gima. "We are bringing a top-class business education to African countries by really being on the ground."

Schools deepening their footprint in Africa include two European institutions, France's Grenoble Graduate School of Business (Grenoble Full-Time MBA Profile) and the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management in Germany.

In Morocco, Grenoble teams with ESCA

The German business school received a $2.3 million grant from the German Academic Exchange Service—a national agency that helps build ties with academic institutions around the world—to establish a partnership with an African university while building a stronger presence on the continent. Last fall, Frankfurt used the funds to launch an academic research center devoted to the study of microfinance, as well as to develop and run a two-year master of microfinance degree program in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in conjunction with the Université Protestante au Congo in Kinshasa, the country's capital. The program, which costs $450 a year and is taught by three Frankfurt professors in a separate building on campus, has proved popular; the school receives four applications for every available spot, says Frankfurt President Udo Steffens in an interview. For now, the Université Protestante confers the degree, but Frankfurt is "considering going in the direction of a dual or joint degree," as well as the eventual development of executive MBA and full-time MBA programs at the school, says Steffens.

Grenoble has set its sights on North Africa, where it has collaborated with Morocco's ESCA Ecole de Management to establish a new campus earlier in September in Casablanca, geared towards training African managers. The school started the program because many multinational companies with branches and manufacturing plants in Morocco have started demanding executives with more sophisticated business skills, says Thierry Grange, Grenoble's dean, in an interview. The school is flying in 12 faculty from Grenoble to offer a master in business development program, as well as a doctorate of business administration degree. So far, about 600 students have signed up for the two-year master program, with students coming from Morocco and all over West Africa, Grange says. The school has also contracted with other schools in Europe and Africa to offer degree programs in information management systems and design.

"We are really bringing a European degree with a European environment, faculty, and recruitment principle to Africa," Grange says. "We want to make it a real Euro-African hub."

'10,000 Women' initiative helping

U.S. business schools also have been aggressively forging relationships with African business schools, particularly those that received funding from the "10,000 Women" initiative, a $100 million program funded by Goldman Sachs (GS) to improve management education in developing regions such as Africa. For the last two years, the University of Michigan's William Davidson Institute, one of the 10,000 Women academic partners, has worked with the School of Finance and Banking in Kigali, Rwanda, training more than 100 Rwandan women in entrepreneurship through a six-month certificate program.

Another 10,000 Women partner, Columbia Business School (Columbia Full-Time MBA Profile), has helped the United States International University (USIU) in Nairobi, Kenya, launch a new Global Executive MBA program. Although the degree is conferred by USIU, Columbia faculty teach 5 of the 10 courses; the initial cohort of 30 students is spending a week at Columbia Business School late in September to learn about U.S. businesses. Demand for the program has been so strong that a second cohort of students was added in September, says Murray Low, director of Columbia's Eugene Lang Entrepreneurship Center, in an interview. Columbia is also working with the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, helping it develop a certificate program for entrepreneurs.

"There is a huge need for high quality, locally relevant, affordable business education in Africa," Low says. "We have a lot to offer students and Africa is increasingly going to be a place where people are marking careers. So for us it is both an opportunity as well as an obligation."

Damast is a staff writer for Bloomberg Businessweek.

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