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Happy Birthday Lagos Business School: Management Education in 21st Century Africa

Guy_Pfeffermann_webHAPPY BIRTHDAY, Lagos Business School!

The first time you and I met you were a vivacious thirteen year old living on Victoria Island, and what a lovely young adult you have become, and on such a beautiful campus. I also love your oldest child, the Enterprise Development Center, and admire your dad, the Pan-Atlantic University, whose campus I visited in May with Professor Alos.

I feel deeply honored that Dean Okonedo invited me to address you on this joyful occasion. She asked me to touch on issues surrounding “Management Education in 21st Century Africa: Building People and Growing Businesses.”

My talk consists of two parts; first, what I call the “outside-in” perspective and second the “inside-out” perspective. Let me explain. Most business school discussions and strategies focus mainly on the first, that is: how to grow a business school from good to great. That is what I call the “outside-in” perspective, which considers the views of accreditation bodies and of rankings such as the Financial Times and others. Then there is the “inside-out” perspective, which has to do with the contributions that a business school makes to society. The first deals largely with the means, the latter with the ends, and I don’t need to tell you how vital this broader purpose is to Africa.

So, let’s start with what it takes to grow a great business school.

I have often heard it said that LBS started building its house by its roof, meaning high-level executive education. The MBA program came when the School had established its reputation for excellence, and, thanks to executive education and the support of Lagos’s business community, good revenues were coming in. There are other strategies, and one of the big advantages of young institutions like most African management schools is the degree of freedom they enjoy in choosing their growth path, a situation which long-established schools in affluent countries must envy.

A list of what it takes to grow an excellent business school is daunting, especially in resource-constrained environments such as Africa’s and that of other developing regions:

  • A visionary founder and champion who gains the support of the business community and the license to innovate from the regulatory authorities
  • Strong governance
  • A sound funding model
  • A balanced portfolio of courses Ð undergraduates, MBAs, EMBAs, etc., which makes it easier to adjust to economic volatility
  • Faculty who deliver great pedagogy including cases, simulations, student projects and so forth.
  • Strong alumni management
  • Effective metrics designed to align individual performance and institutional goals
  • Possibly, but not necessarily, external credibility anchors such as international accreditation and attention to rankings, minding the pitfall in the African context of excessive spending on research
  • Continued strong partnerships with the business community
  • Engagement in social networks
  • Meaningful international partnerships, which facilitate sharing good practices and offering some students international experiences
  • Using online resources
  • Possibly generating online resources such as MOOCs
  • And last but not least what a friend of mine, who co-created Global Giving, a very successful donation platform, once said when I asked what was the secret of her success: “mindless persistence”

Let me say that is hard, and may well not be possible, for state schools to meet these challenges, because of the budgetary and regulatory constraints under which they operate. Few of these schools equip their graduates with what employers need most: soft skills and practical experience. Because the vast majority of African students go to state schools, that is a very major obstacle to scaling up good business education. Sadly, I discovered the existence of Nigeria’s “National Association of Unemployed Graduates” and of the “Unemployed Graduates Association of Ghana”.

Returning now to the prototypical great school, which has managed successfully to overcome the many challenges I listed and more, many would be content with such an achievement, but I am not. Earlier this month the Global Business School Network, of which LBS is an executive Board member, held its annual conference and its members meeting in Ghana, where I made the following statement: As GBSN members “we are interested not only in how to build a great school, but also in asking to what end? Raising individual incomes of your graduates – the main focus of most business school rankings Ð may be the most visible outcome of good business education, but in reality good business schools contribute to improve society’s living standards. Like Molire’s Bourgeois Gentleman, thrilled to find out that he had been speaking in prose all his life without realizing it, business school leaders and faculty may not always be aware of the contributions which they make to society. Yet, research shows conclusively that improved management practices are a driver of economic growth.

In other words, quality business education has an inherent development impact. But this can be greatly enhanced by deliberate strategies. Focusing on the societal impact of a business school is what I call the “inside-out” perspective, that is: figuring out ways to increase management education’s contribution to society while trying to minimize tensions between a school’s social impact and its financial performance. That tension may lessen as social outreach can enhance branding and also generate political support.

So, now that we have a wonderful school, what road shall we follow? First we have to get off the major highway. Then, there are many roads to choose from, some more adventurous than others, all of which have a positive societal impact.

The most obvious, but one which it is hard to teach well, is entrepreneurship. I believe that there is a big difference between on one hand teaching would-be entrepreneurs and on the other, teaching persons who already run an enterprise, no matter how small. The African Leadership Academy shows how the smartest secondary school finishers from all over Africa can learn to acquire the entrepreneurial mindset. So does Ashesi University College in the case of undergraduate students, an extraordinary liberal arts college outside Accra.

The reality is that it is easier to teach actual entrepreneurs how to grow their companies than to generate new entrepreneurs. EDC is not only a model entrepreneurship center, but has spawned a veritable movement. I was privileged to be part of the first alumni reunion of Abuja graduates, and several enthusiastic graduates told us how they were encouraging their friends, mainly women: “I did it, and you can do it too”. To me it was a thrilling experience.

In the same vein, the African Management Initiative engages with the overall training needs of enterprises, rather than only those of individual managers. This has proven to have a greater development impact.

Then, there are sectorial programs, which can have amazing impacts. To mention a few, agribusiness has obvious relevance to Africa, where the majority of the population lives off agriculture. At the recent GBSN annual conference in Ghana, one of the participants, a consultant, told us how she is finding new markets for cassava, for example for uses in construction materials and furniture, so benefiting thousands of Ghanaian traditional farmers. But it gets better still: a lecturer was sitting in the same room and it turned out that she had adapted to Ghanaian realities a GBSN-initiated executive education agri-business program. Not only that, but the consultant herself had taken that very course. I was very pleased to see firsthand such an example of management education boosting development.

Healthcare management is another field that can have huge societal impact. I shall always remember Dr. Lola Dare, a Nigerian pediatrician, who spoke at one of the early GBSN conferences. She had been working in a Lagos public hospital and sometimes lost babies because of mismanagement, for example the oxygen being stored in the wrong place. She decided to quit and founded a nonprofit organization which promotes management education for healthcare professionals. Her story fits in even better here because she herself took a course at INSEAD, which she credits for her success. Read about it here.

Environmental management is another area where business schools can help boost national development. I will also mention a concept that is close to my heart: with better management skills Africa’s wildlife conservancies might have a better chance to reduce poaching and to increase tourism revenues.

There is yet another role that a good business school can play, which contributes to development and that is to become more engaged in the public policy arena. For one thing, business schools are excellent convening places for public officials to brainstorm with the help of skilled facilitators. It is also a good place for public and private players to discuss issues of mutual interest. Some years ago, Debra Spar of Harvard Business School and now President of Barnard College ran a highly successful program in Africa called “Making Markets Work”. This brought together high officials and top corporate officers. During the first few days, they went at each other hammer and tongs, one group accusing the other of not caring for the national interest, the other saying that government had little understanding of how corporations operate. By the end of the week, however, each side had a much better understanding of how the other half saw the world.

In closing, I want to return to scaling, without which all our efforts will benefit only a minuscule fraction of learners. Internationally well-connected schools such as LBS can play a leadership role by working with younger schools, sharing best practices and, if funding can be found, mentoring some of their faculty, for example in case teaching. Prospects for funding opportunities have improved recently, because the United Nations’ new Sustainable Development Goals include education at all levels, while the earlier Millennium Development Goals excluded higher education. Looking over the horizon, the promise of mobile education in dispensing good-quality locally relevant business education has yet to be fulfilled, but I am hopeful that some of today’s experiments will eventually increase access by a quantum.

Guy Pfeffermann is the Founder & CEO of the Global Business School Network[/cs_text][/cs_column][/cs_row][/cs_section][/cs_content]