Monday, April 27, 2015 at 3pm

Summit Provides Outlook on Doing Business in Africa: MBA News

London Business School sutdent-run club holds annual Africa summit

The emerging prospects and landscape for doing business in Africa was the subject of discussion at a summit held over the weekend by London Business School’s student-run, Africa Club.

The general outlook on business opportunities across the continent conveyed at the Africa Business Summit was one of optimism, albeit one that must be steeped in realism and the need to take flexible approaches to achieve success.

One keynote speech at London Business School’s summit came courtesy of Prudential Africa’s CEO, Matt Lilley, who outlined why common perceptions regarding the region are not always entirely justified:

“Doing business in Africa is not nearly as hard as many foreign investors think. Thirty nine countries in Sub-Saharan Africa created wide reforms to make it easier to do business there last year. It’s important to look beyond negative generalizations – it’s a large, diverse continent and while it’s maybe less developed than other markets, it’s developing more quickly than any other region in the world,” Lilley said. Prudential started doing business in Africa as recently as the end of 2013, and Lilley said an intended flexible and long-term approach in the region would be a crucial recipe for success.

London Business School summit considers range of industries

During the speeches and panel discussions at the London Business School event, the terrain for doing business in Africa was considered across a number of other topics including energy and entrepreneurship, where the need to practice flexibility again came to the fore.

Flexibility as a vital instrument of success, however, hints at the uncertainty and challenges that companies might encounter when doing business in Africa. Instability persists in many of the continent’s key market regions, with Nigeria and Kenya providing recent examples. Of course, this is not to mention the turbulence caused by the Ebola outbreak which began in West Africa last year and has been responsible for the deaths of more than 10,000 people, according to recent figures from the World Health Organization (WHO).

Okendo Lewis Gayle, founder of the Harambe Entrepreneur Alliance, emphasized in the London Business School event’s segment on entrepreneurship in Africa that opportunities must be grounded in realism:

“The question is, how do we create a more nuanced narrative and say, ‘Be realistic and pragmatic, there are challenges, but there are also opportunities and both can co-exist.’”

Management education in Africa

Optimism over Africa’s future and potential for growth and expansion has seen a number of international business schools operate in the region, by establishing campus presences, forming partnerships with existing institutions, or even to offer courses in executive education.

Many are looking to meet a rising demand for quality management education within Africa. Some simply believe that paying heed to the continent is an essential part of ensuring they remain globally relevant and competitive. Either way, for a continent that could be home to the world’s largest workforce in the next 20 years, the need for skilled managers to enable companies - and even the workings of the state - to thrive, is often emphasized.

For example, Columbia Business School has worked with the United States International University Africa in Nairobi, Kenya and the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, as part of an ongoing Goldman Sachs project to provide women with management education and practical business skills. Frankfurt School of Finance and Management (FSFM), meanwhile, has co-established a business school in the Democratic Republic of Congo with a local partner and HEC Paris has been commissioned to help provide bespoke courses for state officials in the Ivory Coast.  

Africa’s own management education landscape has been described as ‘patchy’ – with schools that are internationally recognized seen as being too scarce to meet the region’s demand expectations. This only serves to add to the incentive for overseas business schools to seek a role in the area.

But, however attractive an increasing array of international offerings and collaborations may be to prospective students in the region - or among those looking at doing business in Africa - there are concerns that have been raised from within the continent. University World News reports that the African Management Initiative (AMI - an organization hoping to help train a million managers in Africa by 2023) fears an academic ‘colonial frontier’ being installed, one where development in Africa’s management education options could come at the expense of local providers.

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Tim is a writer with a background in consumer journalism and charity communications. He trained as a journalist in the UK and holds degrees in history (BA) and Latin American studies (MA).

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