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A Conference in Cairo

Passengers disembarking Cairo International Airport are greeted by a golden woman sporting a duck on her head. No one seems to know why.

The American University in Cairo, a superb institution, sits on a 260 acre piece of land. The buildings would do ancient pharaohs proud. One of them leads those who enter to a maze. As people are lost, they naturally ask someone of the way, and this is the very purpose of the maze – to get people to talk to one another. In the age when mobile phones are grafted on young persons’ hands, any encouragement to actual encounters is welcome. Another building houses the anti-plagiarism office; right next to it is the copy center. 

To Cairo is an immense city of nearly 30 million. Driving at dawn on the peripheral super-highway. On one side the desert;  on the other mile after mile of houses, mostly 5 or 6 stories high, made out of sandstone, many not looking quite upright, and mostly unfinished or vacant, like a Hollywood setting for a ghost movie. This is “New Cairo”. Six million people will be living there, including most government employees. In daytime thousands of cranes and bulldozers are at work – Brasilia in the desert. New highways connect New Cairo to the old. We drive smoothly for nearly an hour before we see the first traffic light. The old center has a nice 1950s atmosphere. No trash on the streets. The University’s old campus is downtown. King Farouk had an office there. He was fond of expensive cars, all of which were painted bright red, so that traffic was moved aside. 

The conference is about Talent and Technology. The presentations are excellent, and studded with some gems. A faculty dean: “our professors are so theoretical that I dare not have them cross the street by themselves”. At a session about artificial intelligence, a speaker mentions how AI can be applied to dating apps. Because it can harvest an enormous amount of data about prospective partners, there will be far fewer mismatches. Another speaker recommends turning “unconscious incompetence” into “conscious incompetence”. 

Having enquired about a Nile cruise I received the following email: “On behalf of Nile Cruise Management, we applaud the gratitude for your interest in our boats.” 

Readers of Elizabeth Peters’ marvelous saga of Amelia Peabody, the fictitious female archaeologist and her zany family, which runs from 1884 to 1923 will be pleased to know that the Service des Antiquités survives to this day pursuing tomb robbers. Some ancient finds have a very contemporary ring about them, for example a 3,200 year-old attendance sheet found in Deir el-Medina: reasons for worker absence include “embalming brother”, “brewing beer” and “bitten by scorpion”.

Guy Pfeffermann

Founder, Global Business School Network

In 2003 Guy Pfeffermann founded the Global Business School Network on the principle that skilled management is critical to successful international development.

After 40 years as an economist at the World Bank, including 15 years as Chief Economist of the International Finance Corporation, he saw too often how lack of management talent was impeding economic and social development in communities throughout the developing world. GBSN pairs a robust network of experts with efficient administration to build institutional capacity, foster collaboration and disseminate knowledge, all aimed at promoting management education that delivers international best practice with local relevance. He retired from GBSN in 2017.  In 2018 he founded Management Sciences for Wildlife Conservancies.

Born in Montauban, France, Mr. Pfeffermann received his Licence en Droit et Sciences Economiques in Paris in 1962 and was awarded first prize, Concours General, a French national inter-university essay competition. He was a Besse scholar at St. Antony’s College, Oxford from 1962-65 and received a B.Litt. (Oxon.) in 1967 for his thesis: “Industrial Labour in Senegal,” which was also published as a book.

From 2000-2003 he was an Adjunct Professor at Johns Hopkins University, School of Advanced International Studies. From 2003-2007, he was a member of the Board of Directors of the GlobalGiving Foundation. He published “Paths out of Poverty – The Role of Private Enterprise in Developing Countries (IFC, 2000). Other publications include “Technology, Education and the Developing World” in nBizEd, a publication of the AACSB (July/August 2013) and “Cutting a Path to Prosperity – How Education Pioneers are Building Better Business Schools for the Developing World… and Why” (with co-authors, 2013).