Kofi Annan Scholarship: Responsible Leadership and Classroom Diversity | TopMBA.com

Kofi Annan Scholarship: Responsible Leadership and Classroom Diversity

By Pavel Kantorek

Updated July 30, 2019 Updated July 30, 2019

Responsible leadership is something we put a strong emphasis on at ESMT,” reflects Stephanie Kluth, head of admissions at the European School of Management and Technology. It is for this reason that ESMT chose to become part of the Kofi Annan Business Schools Foundation, along with four other business schools around Europe.

The aim of the organization is to encourage applicants from developing countries (those listed as LDCs or LLDCs by the UN, or Palestine) to apply to the participating schools by offering MBA scholarships. The total value of the Kofi Annan Fellowship offered by ESMT is €58,000 – around US$78,750 – which covers tuition, accommodation and other associated program costs. Up to three are on offer annually. The successful applicants can then return to their home countries and use put what they’ve learned into practice.

“One of the biggest desires of ESMT’s founding dean Wulff Plinke is to get more people from developing countries to learn about responsible leadership, so they can contribute. He stepped down as dean in 2011, and spends a good deal of time now trying to recruit these students, and raising funds for scholarships with the help of corporate partners and the friends of ESMT.”

As well as the fellows themselves, and the economies to which they will return, the rest of the class benefits from the presence of these MBA scholarship winners. “They bring a different perspective. Though they tend to come from similar professional backgrounds, they have lived and worked in a very different environment, in which different factors will impact the way business is done. This shakes up the perceptions of students from a European or North American background.”

Accordingly, the selection process for the MBA scholarship also looks for a two way fit. “What we’re really looking for is why they want to do an MBA; if we can contribute to their career plans, and at the same time, if they can contribute to the class. The MBA should be enriching for the person and the person should be enriching for ESMT,” explains Kluth.

Applicants to the scholarship must show a willingness to make a positive impact in their home countries post graduation – though Kluth adds that they may build some experience in Europe first.

While working in the development or non-profit sector might well be a boon, she adds, it is not necessarily the main criterion – indeed, this is very rare in applicants, though with the network steadily growing, it may be more the case in the future.

“We would like to develop ESMT’s network in developing countries. We want the fellows to assist each other, and help develop an entrepreneurial spirit in their home countries,” Kluth concludes. “Hopefully this will lead to an increase of students from these regions who attend business school, who can then also take back the merits you get from an MBA, returning with business skills as well as a sense of responsible leadership.”

Profile: Kofi Annan MBA Scholarship winners

Ernest Gyimah

Ernest Gyimah, from Ghana, received offers from a number of business schools in Europe and the US, but the offer of full funding from ESMT really opened the doors for him. “It is such a great package for anyone anywhere in the world, especially for business graduate education, which receives very low financing globally.”

He is confident that he was a standout candidate for the MBA scholarship, and it was his leadership potential which allowed him to catch the eye of ESMT – though he also believes his faith played a part!

“I had a great experience and 2012 will remain a landmark year in my life,” he reflects, adding that working with people from diverse backgrounds was the thing from which he really gained.

Since graduating, he has helped foster development in Africa, working as a visiting associate for the African Development Corporation. He also gives back to ESMT, helping other students enjoy the same opportunity he did.

“For people in developing countries, the Kofi Annan MBA scholarship helps to eliminate a big barrier that prevents any potentially excellent students from improving their education. This also means the fellow will be able to bring his or her experience back home.”

There is no shortage of excellent businesspeople in Ghana, he adds – the challenges lie elsewhere. “I think the main thing that businesses in Ghana need is adequate infrastructure and energy supply.”

Does he have any advice for future applicants to the scheme? “I think all those seeking the Kofi Annan scholarship should be prepared to prove that they deserve it; during the application process, when they are in school and even after. It's a privilege to be Kofi Annan fellow, so fellows should look forward to it with great joy.”

Bevin Ngara

“This was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me. I was never going to raise €60,000 for a world class education, and to afford a global scale experience,” reflects Bevin Ngara, from Zimbabwe.

A fit between his values of responsible leadership and those of ESMT won the day for him, he feels. “I believe that I was able to demonstrate clearly how I was going to live the spirit of the fellowship after highlighting my ideas about pursuing private equity initiatives with a social impact.”

He describes his experience as “unbelievable” and speaks glowingly of the diversity in the class, as well as a field trip to Silicon Valley and the INTOPIA business simulation. 

Immediately after completing the program, Ngara started giving back. “The ESMT Responsible Leaders fellowship allows ESMT Alumni an opportunity to volunteer on pro-bono basis giving services to disadvantaged communities in developing world as lecturers or project manager. I went to volunteer at TSIBA Education in Cape Town as a lecturer, entrepreneurship consultant, and project manager.”

He now works at a local firm in asset management. His first initiative there was to launch a US$10 million microfinance fund, the goal of which is to, “unlock liquidity to the under-banked sectors of Zimbabwe, as well as to return excess returns to investors”.

So, what in his opinion is needed to advance the cause of business in Zimbabwe? “Leadership! Zimbabwe has an educated workforce as well as abundant natural resources, but lacks the leadership to guide these resources into profitable sustainable businesses. Such leadership is also greatly needed in the political space.”

The Kofi Annan MBA scholarship and similar schemes can play a key role in addressing this shortfall. “Our community could do much better with young leaders that are exposed to western training and education. This is, however, expensive, so therefore initiatives such as the Kofi Annan Scholarship become priceless.”

Finally, what advice would he give to any candidates wanting to follow in his footsteps? “They should demonstrate a strong will to return back to their respective communities and pay back. The education awaits them; they only need to remain focused on their promise to transform the developing world."

This article was originally published in April 2016 . It was last updated in July 2019

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Written by

Mansoor is a contributor to and former editor of TopMBA.com. He is a higher and business education specialist, who has been published in media outlets around the world. He studied English literature at BA and MA level and has a background in consumer journalism.