Revealing research questions impact of African bschools

There is no limit to the areas in which African business schools can widen their footprint, believes Jonathan Foster-Pedley, dean and director: Henley Business School Africa and a board member of the Association of African Business Schools (AABS).

According to new research, undertaken by Foster-Pedley and released recently by Henley Africa at the AABS Annual Conference in Casablanca, Morocco, African institutions have the potential to embrace a broader and more strategic role in society. The white paper entitled ‘Amplifying the Impact of African Business Schools’ details how this can be achieved by exerting influence directly (though the business school’s pedagogical approach and business model), at a social level (encompassing the society, students, and organisations for which African business schools cater) and through effecting far-reaching systemic influence (country-specific influences which have the potential to change the national approach and discourse).

As the first business school to be accredited by the AABS, Henley Africa undertook the research project as the first step in what it hoped would be a continent-wide change process. As such, the research did not shy away from criticism of the business models and approaches currently directing the efforts of African business schools, in an effort to seek out practical solutions and strategies that could enhance the management education offering across the continent.

“African education is truly coming of age,” said Foster-Pedley at the time of Henley Africa’s AABS accreditation announcement in September 2021. He noted that as African education finds its voice and cements its role in society and the world, greater Pan-African collaboration would prove critical to build stronger institutions capable of addressing the unique needs and context of the continent as a whole.

Areas of impact

The current areas in which African business schools were regarded as having impact – categorised in terms of the direct, social and systemic groupings highlighted above – were explored in detail in the white paper. Insights were drawn from semi-structured interviews with 10 leading experts, including African and international business school deans and former deans, senior leaders, as well as global educators and provocateurs in the higher education space.

As part of the qualitative study, each commentator was asked two core questions:
  • In what ways can an African business school have impact?
  • How can/should business schools be reinventing themselves to have an impact?
The input yielded from these interviews highlighted the importance of the following areas:
  • Getting the fundamentals of quality education right;
  • Building solid reputations and faculty expertise;
  • Collaborating within the continent;
  • Creating curricula that were relevant to both Africa and the world; 
  • Harnessing the reach of digital tools and innovation; 
  • Focusing on working with business and government to solve African problems;
  • Boldly outlining areas of potential impact; and
  • Creating workable and forward-thinking strategies that support the purpose, relevance, and evolution of African business schools. 
Strategic reinvention: a proposed action plan

To support African business schools in their endeavours to widen impact and relevance, the white paper proposed a strategic framework – the African Business School Impact Action Plan - which should be considered in line with each institution’s strategic long-term vision and purpose, as well as the country and context in which each business school operates.

The action plan outlined nine noteworthy areas for consideration, offering insights into areas as diverse as applying mindful evolution strategies; ensuring relevance at a country, context and continent level; ensuring approaches that were in step with future and unfolding contexts; deploying deliberate innovation interventions; transforming current structures to secure greater autonomy for African business schools; developing credible faculty; enhancing engagements with business and society; and striving to build greater regional cooperation while maintaining at all times a clear global outlook.

“Poised at the intersection of business, civil society and government, African business schools can – and should – carve out a more far-reaching role for themselves,” said Foster-Pedley. “African institutions should not shy away from taking on a more active role, which enables them to do more than just produce transformative leaders capable of driving business forward, but to equip those leaders with the skills and mindset necessary to solve for Africa’s many social, political, and economic challenges.”

Useful resources:
Henley Business School
At the core of Henley’s philosophy is the belief that we need to develop managers and leaders for the future. We believe the challenge facing future leaders is the need to solve dilemmas through making choices. We work with both individuals and organisations to create the appropriate learning environment to facilitate the critical thinking skills to prepare for the future.
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