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The NileView | GBSN Beyond: The Transformative Power of Talent and Technology

Ancient civilizations, on the grounds of modern-day Egypt, pushed the boundaries of technology, giving the world breakthrough advances in mathematics, medicine, engineering, and more. Today, the city that never sleeps––Cairo––is alive with 22+ million people who are young, diverse, and increasingly entrepreneurial. It is a city with a distinctive, modern vibe that still feels deeply rooted in a history dating back to 969 AD.

Since 1947, The American University in Cairo (AUC) School of Business has played a pivotal role in Egypt and across the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region. It has been instrumental in developing leaders, entrepreneurs, policymakers and change agents and impacting society through its portfolio of academic and community development activities.

Given the Global Business School Network’s (GBSN) focus on growth and development, it was only natural to turn to Cairo, and AUC in particular, to mark the occasion of its 20th anniversary and host GBSN Beyond (its annual conference) late in October 2023. Working together, the teams at AUC and GBSN developed an apt theme: The Transformative Power of Talent and Technology. They built a global event contextualized by Egypt and the African continent.

The Event – Content and Connections

No matter how great the venue is, it is the people who always make a difference and bring life to any event. More than 120 participants from nearly 80 schools in 32 countries joined us, bringing diverse experiences in academia, government, business, industry, and civil society. They shared innovative ideas, best practices, and transformative initiatives through a series of keynote speeches, plenary sessions, and panel discussions. It was also a good opportunity to meet friends and colleagues and, more importantly, discuss partnerships and collaboration in different academic and community development endeavors. The impressive lineup of panelists and speakers addressed the most pressing issues for communities around the world. The two of us teamed up to organize our takeaways into six broad areas:

  • Business schools can and should continue to elevate their role to enable inclusivity and foster sustainable development in society. They should also prepare students for jobs of the future and conduct research to enable business success. By enhancing connectivity and improving access to information and communication technology tools, business schools can help reduce inequality and bridge political, economic, and social divides rather than exacerbate them.
  • Technology advances, such as generative AI, data analytics and IoT, are especially important and helpful in revolutionizing healthcare, improving financial inclusion, and building cross-border trade, which is critical to international development efforts. However, capitalizing on these opportunities will require stronger international cooperation (e.g., Pan-African approaches).
  • Business schools’ efforts to develop entrepreneurship skills and build innovation ecosystems have been transformative and can be a game changer for Africa. Technology is important for business schools not only because it is changing the workplace and workforce but also because it catalyzes innovation, inclusive development and responsible growth.
  • Technology plays a central role in the future of management education, not just in expanding access but also in increasing quality and impact. Blended models are rising to the fore and offering opportunities to personalize learning, scale experiential learning, strengthen lifelong learning, and provide much-needed academic and social support for learners.
  • Business schools in Africa are taking the initiative (and working together) to play an active and influential role in climate leadership, such as in the Business Schools for Climate Leadership (BS4CL) Africa initiative and others. These efforts will require that more business schools collaborate to build interdisciplinary approaches to research and to program design, development, and delivery.
  • Technology advances are creating new and more complicated issues for business—and offering solutions to address them. Challenges linking climate action, value chains, and human rights are complicated; the future of global trade is as much a geopolitical issue as an economic one, and technology brings a broad range of ethical issues related to privacy, health, and more.

Of course, conferences are about connections as well as content. GBSN Beyond is designed to facilitate introductions that bridge organizations, countries, sectors, and disciplines. We believe that is the best way to spark innovative thinking. And the best way for people to connect is by experiencing something together. For that, we had help and exceptional inspiration from the Nile, which continues to connect people, opportunities, and the future of society.

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Greek Historian Herodotus said: “Egypt is the gift of the Nile.” This is both a true and telling statement. The Nile has been a source of life for thousands of years. The Nile, as a waterway, has played an instrumental role in the lives and livelihoods of Egyptians in many different ways. It has shaped the development of multiple sectors, such as agriculture, food, and trade, just as GBSN Beyond is focused on helping shape the future of management education. During the conference, the Nile––a few hundred meters away from AUC’s historic downtown campus––featured impressively in several cultural and social activities and represented the perfect venue to celebrate the 20th anniversary of GBSN.

The Occasion – Two Decades of GBSN

The Global Business School Network (GBSN) was created in 2004 with a vision for the developing world to have the managerial talent it needs to generate prosperity. It seeks to achieve this vision by engaging member schools in “improving access to quality, locally relevant management education for the developing world.”

As illustrated by the conference agenda, technological advances have made the work of GBSN more important than ever. It is more challenging to navigate continuously disruptive environments and manage people as the speed of technological advances accelerates, especially while striking the right balance in meeting the needs of diverse stakeholders. The challenges to address are many, including privacy, security, implicit bias, inequality, polarization, and jobs. If we do help businesses take a more responsible leadership role, technology could be more of an equalizer, helping to close societal divides rather than exacerbate already existing problems in the developing world.

The fabric of the GBSN community has been woven together by many people over the years—most importantly, Guy Pfeffermann. It was 14 years ago when Sherif met Guy at the security check in a nondescript government building in Washington, DC. It was a brief conversation. Guy shared his vision for GBSN, and shortly after, The American University in Cairo (AUC) School of Business became a member. It was as clear back then as it is today that AUC would play a leadership role in the network and eventually host the annual conference, given the pivotal role the school has played in the Middle East region and, increasingly, the African continent.

Twenty years later, the original purpose still drives GBSN and unites its growing community. However, it now makes it more explicit that its interest is not only to foster economic growth but also to transform society and build more inclusive and sustainable communities. This means GBSN’s mission is about more than access to quality education and empowering people; part of its job is to uncover the topics and related skills that enable the kind of development that is good for the planet and its people.

The Challenge – Conflict in the Region

Like the NileView––whose first edition was published on the 24th of April 2020—GBSN Beyond was born during the COVID-19 pandemic when the initial uncertainty gave way to the reality that large gatherings would not be safe to convene. GBSN knew it could not hold its annual conference in 2020, but it also wanted to innovate—to build something more inclusive and actually “moves the needle” on the mission. That’s why it created GBSN Beyond, built it around a new model for access, and tied it with experiential activities for students and faculty.

Fast-forward a few years, the risks associated with the pandemic subsided, and GBSN returned to in-person events, where the dynamics are more effective, and the interpersonal connections become more conducive to forging partnerships and collaboration between different members of the community. However, it continued to offer online options to support its emphasis on access.

Three weeks before the conference, a devastating conflict erupted in the Middle East that––until the publishing of this article––is still costing way too many lives and destruction. Despite all the preparations and the excitement of hosting the conference, there were a few voices that suggested postponing the event for several months or moving it completely online. Still others were determined to proceed as planned. Sherif was one of them, and thanks to his stewardship, GBSN did not allow the unforeseen, disturbing events in the region to prevent the conference from taking place or deprive the participants of the opportunity to discuss issues of common interest to business schools and society. The whole experience is now an example of leadership in action.

The Future – GBSN Beyond 2024 in Bogotá

The GBSN Beyond conference series is always an opportunity to discuss the role of business schools in addressing the issues facing societies and explore collaborative solutions to them. Later this year, in November, the 2024 edition of GBSN Beyond will take place at the Universidad de Los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia. It will be a renewed opportunity for the GBSN community to continue the conversation on the role of business schools in “Empowering People, Embracing Planet, Imagining Possibilities.”

About the authors: Dan LeClair is the CEO of Global Business Schools Network, and Sherif Kamel is a Professor of Management and Dean of the School of Business at The American University in Cairo.

29 March 2024
Issue #38