Education is Critical in Innovation

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On November 7 – 9, 2018, the Global Business School Network held its 13th Annual Conference on “Transforming Traditional Sectors: Educating Entrepreneurial Leaders to Drive Systemic Change” co-hosted by Strathmore Business School and the Chandaria School of Business, USIU. The conference, held in Nairobi, Kenya, focused on how innovative, interdisciplinary and collaborative ways of educating entrepreneurial leaders can transform traditional sectors, including Mining & Oil, Agriculture, Tourism and Healthcare. The conference was sponsored by MIT Sloan School of Management Global Programs, Monash Business School and Johnson & Johnson.

Over 100 management education, development and industry professionals from 34 countries convened to explore innovations in education and business.

Nicolas Nesbit, General Manager of IBM East Africa, opened the conference with his inspiring life story growing up in Kenya, working his way up the career ladder at Fortune 500 companies and then returning to Kenya where he felt he could make a difference with the management knowledge and skills he developed over the course of his career.

The first keynote conversation, moderated by Timothy Mescon, Executive VP and Chief OfficerEurope, Middle East and Africa, AACSB International, built on the idea of leadership and management in Africa to see how these skills contribute to the leapfrogging of Africa’s economic growth. The panel, that featured Nicholas Nesbitt, General Manager IBM East Africa; Amadou Diallo, CEO, Middle East & Africa, DHL Global Forwarding; Habil Olaka, CEO, Kenya Bankers Association and Patricia Murugami, Advisor to the Dean & Program Leader: Women in Business & Leadership, Strathmore Business Schoo, framed two general themes that were addressed throughout the conference: why companies need leaders with an entrepreneurial mindset and how business schools can work with the corporate world to train responsible leaders with entrepreneurial outlooks.

2018 Annual Conference Keynote Panel

Another keynote session led by Soumitra Dutta, GBSN Chairman, Founding Dean of the Cornell SC College of Business and Co-Founder and Editor of the GII, focused on Africa’s performance in the context of global innovation.  The Global Innovation Index (GII) is the premier reference for measuring a country’s innovation performance. Extending beyond the traditional measures of innovation, the index explores a broad horizontal vision of innovation that encompasses indicators of political environment, education, infrastructure, and business sophistication.

The GII 2018 recognizes twenty countries as ‘Innovation Achievers,’ a group consisting of countries that outperform on innovation in correspondence to their level of development. Six out of the total twenty come from Sub-Saharan Africa, the most of any region. Sub-Saharan Africa performs relatively well on innovation yet shows the least growth in overall score among regions. It is important for Africa to preserve its current innovation momentum as it’s a central driver of economic growth.

The GII 2018 recommends Africa to focus on continuous improvement of the quality of university education, promote a continuous expansion of the range of education areas and topics in local universities, increase transfer of learning from the university to the larger society through various linkages and focus on matching context in which the knowledge or skill is acquired to the context in which the knowledge or skill is to be practiced.

Education is critical in innovation.

According to a survey by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), nine in every 10 unemployed Kenyans are 35 years and below. The majority of the unemployed youth lack vocational skills or programs to help them break forth and so the basic argument is that the youth lack the necessary skills to help them become independent.

Entrepreneurship in Africa is seen as the key to improving unemployment for Africa’s rising youth population as well as for overall economic growth. A breakout session on ‘Innovative Entrepreneurial Development Models that Drive Economic Growth,’ featured Rebecca Harrison, CEO and Co- Founder Africa Management Initiative and Patricia Ithau, Regional Director, Stanford Seed East Africa. Both of the speakers explored how practical training focused on behaviors and locally relevant case studies work because it allows the entrepreneurs to better identify with the materials and tools being taught. This type of entrepreneurial training produces better SME performance and positive behavioral change than a theoretical course.

Entrepreneurship is not the only path to prosperity in Africa. Given the on-going exploration of commercially viable mineral deposits in most African, the continent’s natural resource wealth is expected to spur industrial growth, trade and investment. All these could create more jobs and business, and promote sustainable economic growth and development. However, the lack of innovative skills and work readiness presents a barrier for the African youth to take advantage of the employment and business opportunities created by the extractives sector.

Strathmore University through the Extractives Baraza is trying to address this gap through technical innovation showcases. from Africa’s young industrious minds to stakeholders and industry professionals with the potential of investment and development. The youth are encouraged to come up with home grown solutions for the artisanal small-scale mines.

Ultimately, though, to overcome unemployment and economic growth barriers, public and private sector leaders must work together to drive impact in their regions and create ecosystems conducive to innovation. The cross-sector dialogue, ‘Accelerating innovation ecosystems when no one is in charge,’ led by MIT featured speakers from General Electric, Safaricom Alpha and Strathmore University. Businesses should play a role in supporting startups by establishing partnerships with universities to develop young entrepreneurs.

The role of business in society is changing rapidly, especially in emerging markets. There is agreement that the private sector can address social challenges effectively and efficiently in partnership with the public sector. Business schools are also embracing this new worldview by acting as catalysts of social change. In this changing context, the question arises of how business schools can assess their relevance and impact in society at large. The GBSN 2019 Annual Conference, hosted by Nova School of Business and Economics in Portugal, will dive deeper into this question. Save the date: November 6-8, 2019. For more information visit gbsn.org/2019portugal.

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