How can three or four people do for Africa what most government aid agencies
and NGOs have not succeeded in doing ? Five years ago two or three anarchistic
World Bank employees (not an oxymoron, I assure you) brainstormed what could be
done about one of the most neglected keys to social and economic progress in
Africa and poor countries elsewhere. The answer: create a win-win network.
The problem: nearly everyone who is trying to do good things in Africa will
tell you that one of their main problems is finding local managers who know how
to get things done. More often than not, school and even university graduates
have to be trained again, on-the-job, because what they learn is mostly
academic and unconnected to local needs. The old quip about Senegalese schools
teaching kids about "our ancestors, the Gauls” during the colonial period is
still very relevant. For example, all modern management schools nowadays teach
interactive participatory courses based on "play acting”. Students put
themselves into the shoes of decision-makers faced with real-life actual
problems. This is known as the "case method”. It is very powerful, because it
forces participants to become problem-solvers, not people memorizing in order
to pass exams.
The trouble was, until we arrived on the scene, that there were hardly any
local African case materials. Where management schools used cases, these had to
do with rich country problems encountered by the likes of Enron, Nestle and so
forth, hardly useful to a small furniture manufacturer in Accra.
So, we met with some of the world’s leading-edge management schools, and
they agreed to form a global network of professors who would team up with their
African colleagues. Together, they would help African management schools to
produce state-of-the-arts local teaching materials, so that students would be
trained to be problem-solvers, not memorize books and lectures to pass exams.
Going from total authority over students to interactive discussions was a
mental revolution for many African professors. Some refused, but more got
Three years into pilot programs in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and other African
countries, a large number of good, locally-relevant teaching cases now exist.
In Kenya alone there are over seventy, which are available to any school
wishing to use them.
I think that the main reason why the network approach is generating so much
enthusiasm, and why so many well-known professors from top schools volunteered
to team up with African colleagues is because these professors learn at least
as much from doing research in Africa than their African colleagues benefit
from becoming connected to a world-class pool of knowledge.
Guy Pfeffermann is the CEO of the Global Business School Network, which he founded while working as the Chief Economist of the IFC at the world bank.