18 Jan 2017
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HBS Gains New Insight Into Africa

Re: Ighoghor Omebere-Iyari (MBA 2016); Joshua Sandler (MBA 2016); Nitin Nohria; Srikant Datar; Ramon Casadesus-Masanell

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Senior Lecturer John Macomber, far left, and students in the Africa: Building Cities course toured the Rappie Waste-to-Energy Power Project in Addis Ababa with developer Samuel Alemayehu of Cambridge Group Companies.

With a growing population of 1.2 billion people living in 54 geographically, politically, and economically diverse countries, Africa has become a dynamic frontier for business and entrepreneurship. In response to HBS faculty, student, and alumni interest, the School is broadening its work focused on Africa by convening thought leaders, advancing research on African businesses, and developing MBA and Executive Education courses in the region.

“Today, Africa is probably the most exciting continent because of its unlimited opportunities for growth and emerging middle class,” says Newton Omebere-Iyari (MBA 2016), a native of Nigeria. As the former copresident of HBS’s Africa Business Club with Josh Sandler (MBA/MPA-ID 2016), he worked to deepen the School’s connection to the area and says, “HBS can play an important role in showing its students that there is more than one side to the story of Africa.”

For 18 years, the student club has organized the Africa Business Conference, drawing some 1,500 leaders from business, government, and academia as well as students to campus. Keynote speeches, panels, workshops, and networking events prompt discussions about furthering business opportunities and solving problems facing the continent.

To facilitate faculty engagement, in January 2017 HBS’s Global Initiative established a regional research office in Johannesburg, South Africa, led by director Pippa Tubman Armerding (AB 1990), part of the School’s worldwide network of regional centers and offices. These provide insight into area businesses and business practice and help to lay the groundwork for field-based MBA courses. During eight days in January 2016 for their FIELD 2 experience, 114 first-year students worked with businesses in Accra and Johannesburg. Also in January, 40 MBA students who were enrolled in the second-year immersive field course, Africa: Building Cities, spent two weeks in Ethiopia and Tanzania exploring ways the private sector could help finance and operate public infrastructure to achieve better outcomes.

In August 2016, in partnership with the Gordon Institute of Business Science in Johannesburg, the School launched the Senior Executive Program—Africa (SEPA). For five days in Cape Town, African business leaders focused on strategy, innovation, and leadership. This first module will be followed by three months of independent work on a business challenge leveraging the skills they acquired. The program concludes in November at HBS, where the more than 50 participants will explore ways to drive local and regional growth and sustain success. HBS professors Srikant Datar and Ramon Casadesus-Masanell, who lead the team of educators from both schools, envision the program will rotate to other African countries in the future.

“It is important for HBS to be accessible in Africa, where we can learn from businesses and they can learn from us. If we want to educate leaders who make a difference, we need to extend our presence throughout the continent,” says Ani Kharajian, SEPA Director.

To further HBS’s involvement there, Dean Nitin Nohria travelled to sub-Saharan Africa in January 2017 to engage with local alumni and friends of the School in Lagos, Nigeria, and Johannesburg, South Africa.

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