Managers: the missing link in the African growth story

Africa has reached a turning point. The continent has an abundance of natural wealth and a young and fast-growing population, and is frequently touted as the next frontier for opportunity and investment. But if Africa is to capitalise on this potential, it will require managers with vision and competence who possess the personal drive, commercial acumen and technical skills necessary to develop successful and healthy institutions.

The management gap

Africa boasts good business leaders, but not nearly enough. Large multinationals and local companies describe how they are faced with the twin challenge of fast growth and a dearth of local talent. Multi-nationals are often forced to import managers from overseas, and when they do develop local managers, often find they are poached by competitors. Smaller local companies lack strong and experienced management teams. Investors complain they have no one to invest in.

At the African Management Initiative (AMI) we are dedicated to closing Africa’s management gap, and transforming the continent through high-quality management. We aim to reach a million managers by 2023, by extending access to management education, promoting management best practice and catalysing innovation in the management development space.

Following rigorous research into Africa’s management development landscape, AMI learnt that while Africa boasts a few excellent schools of management and some good corporate training initiatives, the overall efforts to develop high quality managers are entirely inadequate to meet the opportunities the next few decades will bring. More young Africans are pursuing higher education, but too often the quality is low and institutions are out of step with the requirements of Africa’s dynamic economies. Organisations across sectors struggle to recruit staff with the skill to manage and implement their vision and too often the same organisations fail to mentor and develop young managers.

Ideas for impact

With an estimated 110 million Africans in formal employment, we estimate that about 11 million of these are in managerial or supervisory roles. Our research tells us that most of these people are inadequately trained and not fully prepared for this responsibility. In order to substantially improve the quality of management, any programme will have to reach 10% of those managers – hence our 1 million target.

Reaching this target of 1 million managers will not be easy and will require concerted effort from a range of partners across the private, public and education sectors. AMI has already identified several key priorities. The first is to create more business schools. Africa has roughly 100 business schools compared to over 2,000 in India, and only 10 have international recognition. That is simply inadequate to meet future demand. We have therefore designed a blueprint for a high-quality, entrepreneurial African business school that will focus on producing employable and effective managers and that can be started relatively quickly on a lean budget. The first school will be piloted in 2013 in Nigeria.

AMI is also working on developing more accessible and scalable programmes and resources for middle managers who might not be able to afford an MBA at a top business school. Key to this effort is the AMI Virtual Campus and Digital Hub, a recently launched online community of managers committed to the highest standards of performance and responsibility, supported by free resources to help them sharpen their managerial skills. The virtual campus – – includes case studies, a manager’s toolkit, top reads on management and Africa, and a marketplace of education and training providers.

Call to action

Ultimately, a cadre of 1 million effective African managers will only emerge if we see commitment and collaboration across the private sector, education, government and among donors and philanthropists. We need companies and donors who understand that building management capacity is important to growth, development and progress, as pioneers of good management in Africa. We need business schools to reach out beyond their traditional markets of elite executives. We need African managers themselves to commit to improving their performance.

Jonathan Cook is chairman of the AMI and director of the Gordon Institute of Business Science. Rebecca Harrison is programme director of the AMI.