B-Schools Put Africa on the Curriculum

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Long relegated to the back shelf by the media, Africa is hot these days. And not just in the celebrity circles frequented by Bono, Angelina Jolie, and Oprah. Africa is top-of-mind on B-school campuses, too. Schools such as Columbia, Yale, and Dartmouth’s Tuck are sending their students to places like Tanzania and South Africa. Meanwhile, B-schools are tweaking their curricula to include Africa-centric case studies. As far as many MBAs are concerned, there’s no better emerging economy to explore

“There’s a huge area of land with a lot to offer in terms of human resources,” says Shamik Narotam, a second-year finance student at the London Business School who studied in Cape Town this fall. “You can’t ignore it anymore.”

Yes, Oprah and her ilk have done their part to thrust Africa into the U.S. consciousness. (The talk-show host’s $40-million leadership school for girls outside Johannesburg made headlines.) And some MBAs are bringing a do-good ethos to their African focus. But many recognize the continent is an emerging market with rich money-making potential, much the way Asia was a generation ago.

“People are going: ’What’s the next China? What’s the next great thing?’” says Parker Snowe, head of international programs at Penn’s Wharton School “We want to go see what’s going on in Africa, so that when it becomes [a] mature market, we will be ready.”

Exchange programs are proliferating. The University of Cape Town’s business school, for example, has partnerships with 24 schools around the world, 10 of which are from the U.S. (see BusinessWeek.com, 11/2/06, “Africa’s B-School Challenge”). Over the past two years, several top MBA programs have set up partnerships with African B-schools. And schools are sending students over not just to sit in the classroom, but to see first-hand how businesses run.

One such school is Wharton, which last spring dispatched 30 MBAs on a three-week tour of Senegal, Ghana, and South Africa, where they learned the lay of the land from local business leaders. The trip included a stop at the Ghana headquarters of BusyInternet, a company that provides information and communications technology to African entrepreneurs. There they got a first-hand look at how access to basic resources like computers, meeting spaces, and the Internet help local businesses take off. “Unfortunately, very few people that I know of are developing innovative services,” says Mark Davies, BusyInternet’s founder. “Nobody has done what we’ve done.”

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Source: BusinessWeek (link opens in a new window)