Managers are a key link in growing development across African economies

The challenges facing Africa are enormous, and incontestable. Much has been said and written about the economic, social and environmental inequalities confronting us on this continent.

Yet, this very same landscape is endowed with more than 60% of the world’s arable land and more than its fair share of natural resources, and we receive significant foreign direct investment. The potential of our growing consumer market is massive, our population is young and the labour force is expanding. There are positive indicators of growth acceleration, and opportunities and challenges present themselves to unlock potential in agriculture, retail, resources and infrastructure.

The begging question is: If we have these resources and opportunities, why the challenges that manifests in the Millennium Development Goals and why the sluggish progress? If you are not a cynic there is no easy or glib answer for these systemic problems and neither is the solution singular or fixable in nature.

One way of looking at this problématique is to identify a high-leverage variable in the system that, if pulled, could have a significant influence on positioning the described landscape to be more conducive to sustainable growth for all its peoples.

A part of the answer hides in the fact that we have millions of managers on the continent, making daily decisions, from operational to strategic level. Each decision has consequences, which in turn amasses into the quality of life we experience on this continent. These managers are operating, influencing and directing resources in the public and business sectors. It is therefore rather obvious that they have the opportunity to shape a better Africa. They are the ones tasked to lead the turning of these resources into results for Africa’s people and to achieve the primary goals of an economic policy, which are sustainable economic growth and social development.

It is therefore vitally important to build management capacity to get the envisaged results, namely to reduce poverty and improve healthcare, education, infrastructure, service delivery and economic growth. Entities that focus on the development of managers could offer powerful and influential platforms to convene these managers and equip them to lead their organisations in becoming a force for good in Africa.

I would like to reflect on this landscape from different perspectives.

There are too few quality institutions on the continent that can serve the number of managers needed for the future. It is estimated that Africa has 90 institutions providing some form of MBA of variable quality. Only about six business management institutions on the continent comply with international standards like the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools in Business (AACSB), the European Foundation for Management Development (EQUIS) and the Association of MBAs (AMBA). If one considers the fact that India, with a similar population to Africa, has over a 1,000 business schools offering an MBA over and above other institutions focusing on general management, the challenge facing Africa is obvious.

Creating voluntary partnerships and collaborative relationships among stakeholders in the public and business sectors and civil society could be a starting point from which to achieve the shared ideals for the continent.

Serious efforts are required to improve the quality of Africa’s institutions. Management development schools, in accordance with the mission of the United Nations’ Principles for Responsible Management Education, need to “champion responsible management education, research, and thought leadership”.

These are expressed in six principles, reframed below. Hence, the drive of a school of management as a partner for sustainable progress, is to:

  • Develop the capabilities of managers so that they can be future generators of sustainable value for business, government and society;
  • Consider society at large and the connectedness we have, and work actively towards an inclusive and sustainable global economy;
  • Integrate the values of global social responsibility into its academic activities and courses;
  • Create a rich learning space that allows for effective learning experiences to become responsible leaders;
  • Participate in sound theoretical and rigorous pragmatic research that advances understanding of organisations (public, business, civil society) in the quest for a sustainable future.

To action the above, sufficient and well-educated faculty is needed. This is a base resource, but also a declining resource in many instances.

Africa’s current management development entities cannot master it alone. We are too few in number, our resources are limited and it is challenging to be everything to everyone. Furthermore, the task is complex and requires a number of participating stakeholders for different reasons. Part of this is for business schools to collaborate with managers of organisations (business, government, civil society) to deepen their understanding of the challenges in meeting economic, social and environmental responsibilities and to jointly explore effective approaches to meet these challenges. These schools need to facilitate and support discourse and debate among business, government and civil society entities on critical issues relating to responsible leadership and economic, social and environmental sustainability.

Frik Landman is the head of USB Executive Development.