#4 Summer 2015

Empowering African academics

Dr Nceku Nyathi

Dr Nceku Nyathi

The GSB’s Dr Nceku Nyathi will co-chair the third biennial Conference of the Africa Academy of Management in Nairobi.

There is a pressing need for a new African curriculum when it comes to management theory and teaching leadership development at business schools in Africa and it is up to African business schools to shape that. So said Dr Nceku Nyathi, Senior Lecturer in the Allan Gray Centre for Values-Based Leadership at the GSB.

Speaking ahead of the Africa Academy of Management (AFAM) biennial conference in Nairobi next January, Dr Nyathi, who is on the executive committee of the AFAM and co-chair of the conference, said that business schools need to build managers who have the skills to lead organisations in Africa. “It is about developing the best managers in tune with the challenges experienced locally but at the same time, we need to expose them to the very best global thinking around management training.”

AFAM is a collaboration that brings together academics from business schools in Africa and management practitioners and scholars from the diaspora, as well as top scholars from business schools around the world. It seeks to support and empower African academics across the continent by fostering collaborations and boosting connections, but also by focusing on specific problem areas such as developing and mentoring doctoral students through annual PhD workshops.

One of the biggest problems facing academia in Africa is the lack of high quality researchers. “There is very poor PhD training in Africa. If you look at what is published globally and compare this to what African academics bring out, the output is much smaller,” said Nyathi.

The conference, themed Managing Africa’s Future: Prospects and Challenges, will see top scholars from around the world gather for a week of presentations, workshops and panel discussions based on management issues in Africa. It will also feature a dedicated programme for doctoral students. “We argue that we must be bold in inserting knowledge about management in Africa into the broader knowledge conversation. We must generate indigenous knowledge about management in and for Africa and at the same time be bold enough to challenge existing canons,” said AFAM president, Professor Stella Nkomo in her call to academics to submit papers for the conference.

“Through our research, we can push the boundaries of existing knowledge to make management knowledge more inclusive. The opportunity has never been greater,” she said.

GSB director, Professor Walter Baets agrees. He is of the opinion that African business schools could blaze a trail internationally for others in the field of management theory and leadership development. “Emerging market thinking goes beyond the geographical emerging markets. For me, it is all about thinking how you, as a leader, are able to take responsibility in an economy that is changing every day. That is something you would rather learn in an emerging market business school, than in a traditional Western business school,” he noted.

Nyathi said that African academics are ideally placed to help entrepreneurs identify business opportunities, training students to see opportunity instead of problems and coming up with innovative solutions that are profitable as well as socially responsible. He said too often NGOs or foundations become involved in tackling a housing or transport crisis in an area, when this in fact, could be a business opportunity for a local entrepreneur or start-up. He thinks this is where the AFAM can play an important role. “We can provide the skills training, the networking and connecting opportunities, helping to empower people by opening minds, stimulating and inspiring them. “So the questions we need to be asking are around race diversity, identity and ethnicity. FNB wants to open branches in Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria. What do they need to be successful there? Why is Woolworths struggling in Nigeria?” The answers to these questions don’t lie in textbooks, but in the field where they need to be uncovered by academics, said Nyathi. “New bodies of knowledge need to be created around what it means to be a manager in Africa, the real experiences of African leaders and what it takes to head up large corporations in Africa.”

It goes to the core of what the AFAM is trying to do – to grow the quality of academic research and leadership thinking on the African continent. But not just by connecting academics and ideas, there is the hope that a real tangible difference will be made in empowering students to become business leaders who are as focused on profit and the bottom line as they are on social upliftment and development.

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