Euvin Naidoo, current head of strategy at Barclays Africa Regional Management, believes that Africa must be seen as a priority region, specifically in the international business education arena.
“Over the last decade, the major business schools of the world, in the United States and across Europe, have had a focus on doing business in Asia – in China, in India. Students in their final year have a choice to be able to engage these electives which expose them to that world,” Naidoo told CNBCafrica.com.
“It is incredible that in 2014, we still have Africa not being as represented in that ecosystem, in terms of training future leaders in business, regarding the nuances.”
THE BIRTH OF THE COURSE
As a result of this, an elective on ‘Doing Business in Africa’ was launched at the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford.
The week-long course uses a systematic approach to unpack both the risks and rewards that exist across sectors and countries in Africa.
According to Naidoo, Africa hasn’t received enough interest in terms of business experience on the ground as well as in celebrating the great business leaders on the continent.
“We wanted a specific course on doing business in Africa. There was a strategic focus to create an ecosystem in which students from Africa, particularly new leaders who want to play a role in shaping and encouraging African leaders, [could] be connected to the global world,” he explained.
“It was [developed] to break some stereotypes that exist globally and to create a framework in which we highlighted the risks and the opportunities but provided a structure with which people could engage sectors, countries as well as regions across the continent.”
The course was positioned towards full-time and part-time MBA students, hailing from Africa as well as Europe, Latin America and the United States.
MAKING THE COURSE AS PRACTICAL AS POSSIBLE
It includes theoretical and practical business examples and case studies on companies like Actis and projects like Eskom’s Medupi power station.
A case study on Celtel was also used to highlight the opportunities and challenges of growing a business, scaling it and exiting it.
Professor Peter Tufano, the Peter Moores Dean at the Saïd Business School, emphasised the fact that students learned how real business is done in Africa.
“This course reflects that there is some theory but a great deal of it is understanding how it is that business gets done in the continent, and taught, as it were, by people doing busines in-country,” he said.
“For example, in one of the lectures, it was a case on Actis and how it is that you raise funds in private equity in Africa, what are the interests and preferences of investors who are currently looking at Africa and how does one build a case for them.”
KEEPING THE FOCUS ON AFRICA
He also stated that the course is part of a more elaborate strategy around engagement in and with Africa.
“Globally about two and half per cent of MBA candidates come from Africa and we have publicly said that we want 10 per cent of our class to come from Africa. The first part of the strategy is finding ways to increase the fraction of our class that comes from Africa,” Tufano said.
“The other part of the strategy is to make sure that our students at Oxford know a lot more about Africa, about the countries there, the economic issues, the opportunities. We think that the combination of inbound and outbound engagement with Africa is the way to make this strategy work.”
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While this may only be the first time the course has been run, Tufano stated that he expects interest in it to increase due to the geographically-dispersed nature of the students.
“About 20 per cent come from Europe and the UK, about 20 per cent come from North America, about six per cent will come from Africa, under 10 per cent will come from China, seven or eight per cent will come from Australia and New Zealand,” he indicated.
“Many of these students are very global, very cosmopolitan and a number of them are interested in careers in Africa.”
A POSITIVE RESPONSE
Naidoo added that the results were quite profound and that the school had a very dedicated focus on attracting young leaders from Africa as well as sending its graduates into the continent to do business.
“It turned out to be one of the largest and most popular classes for Oxford over that period. We had over 60 students sign up, which is a relatively large class. The course was oversubscribed and we had to turn down students from applying,” he stated.
“We had many students write to the Dean and to the school flagging that it was arguably one of the most interesting and exciting courses that they had attended so the school has responded incredibly well.”
ONE AFRICA, MANY COUNTRIES
Naidoo did however indicate that the greatest challenge in creating this course was how to encapsulate the eclectic nature of the African continent in a one-week emersion.
“It’s not possible other than focusing on key themes, and then using the case method [to] expose the attendees to a broad array of challenges across the subject of doing business in Africa, to hopefully assist them in crafting their thinking for their companies,” he said.
“Over the course of a week, we tackled a case focused on a company or an issue in Africa. We unpacked it and then we balanced it with a series of lectures drawing on my experience on the continent, to provide people with a context of how to tackle the issue of doing business.”
He added that business in Africa is no different from business in China or in India, which relies on deep local context and global knowledge.
“One of the things we emphasise in the course is the importance of ‘contextual intelligence’, understanding the context and knowing that business in Africa is not just [about] understanding the global picture but locally, making sure that leaders are connected to the communities,” Naidoo said.
“Hopefully we have planted a seed so when they return to China, Japan, Latin America, Europe and the United States, that one day, many of them will be chief executives or senior leaders and say, ‘I have a different understanding of the continent, I understand the risks’.”
AFRICA’S GROWING OPPORTUNITIES
Tufano highlighted not only the growth that is expected in the coming years in Africa but also the types of opportunities.
“There’s definitely a growing interest in Africa. If one looks at GDP projections over the next 25 years, the continent and countries within the continent will be among the fastest growing countries in world.”
“Those opportunities range from everything from infrastructure to services business, manufacturing business and more. It’s not a surprise that these global students would be attracted to a very exciting high growth, high opportunity place like the continent,” he said.
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Naidoo echoed this and further emphasised the need to be realistic with the students rather than be Afro-optimists, painting a rosy picture.
“There are serious business opportunities on the continent that do pose risks, and any investor local, pan-African or international, has to be aware of it. We’re encouraging leaders from around the world to very quickly develop local understanding and partnerships on the continent,” he explained.
“We believe that global, multinationals as well as business leaders from around the world need to have an Africa strategy and the faster they develop it, the faster they get ‘muscle memory’ regarding doing business. The continent is a place that will be of growing importance to global business.”