Africa is Rising

And IESE MBAs in Nairobi are “part of the change”

29/01/2016 Nairobi


Alejandro Lago: It’s amazing to see our MBAs adapt their acumen and skills to the local market and African culture / Photo: Google

Last year it was 30. This year more than 50 MBA students signed up for the two-week international module in Nairobi, Kenya. Why the surge in interest?

“Africa was unknown to me – Kenya in particular. I wanted to experience the drivers of economic growth in that part of the world firsthand,” says MBA student Nils Eigenbrod from Germany.

“Africa used to be seen as the ‘final frontier’ in terms of developing business,” says Prof. Alejandro Lago, director of the Africa Initiative, who accompanied students to Nairobi.

“This is the module’s fourth year. Word of mouth is spreading. Africa is rising – and our students are part of it.”

The two-week module – delivered in conjunction with Strathmore Business School – is an opportunity to get a deeper understanding of doing business in Africa. And adapting to the local business and social cultures. “One of the first things we learn about business culture in Africa is that people matter more than schedules,” says Lago.

A Business Culture Built on Optimism

This is a sentiment echoed by Eigenbrod.

“Coming from Germany, I had to get used to the fact that in Africa, business is more about the personthan about the rules and contracts,” he says. “Everyone is very friendly and respectful. And they expect the same from us – and from their business partners.”

“You also have to be very flexible,” adds Lago.

“Time in Africa is elastic. This is a culture shock at first, things do eventually turn out as planned – just not when you expect. Doing business in Africa is about managing your expectations.”

Over the course of the module, students meet peers from Strathmore Business School Executive MBA and get to grips with the cultural differences – and similarities.

“Students are always surprised at just how professional and personal aspirations are the same. Entrepreneurs have the same aspirations. And values,” says Lago. 

Something that both Lago and the MBA cohort find striking is the culture of optimism in African businesses. “Local businesses are keen to learn, and listen,” says Lago. “This is perhaps different to the perception of the African public sector which often projects a negative outer-image.”

Broadening Perspectives, Building Global Business Skills

Eigenbrod found the Nairobi module a truly hands-on experience – one that adds layers of knowledge and capabilities to traditional “classroom learning.”

“You need to experience the consumer reality in Africa yourself in order to truly understand it.”

Part of this experience sees IESE MBAs take on the role of project manager and consultants in local SMEs to help develop strategies for the coming year. These are oftentimes small companies without the resources to contract a top consultant.

“It’s amazing to watch our students adapt their acumen to the local market and to African culture. They are acquiring truly cross-cultural business knowledge and capabilities, while doing something positive for the local economy. Doing business in Africa with medium-sized businesses helps develop African society too,” says Lago.

For Eigenbrod the main take-home is Africa’s huge potential. “This is one the most interesting regions to do business in. Now and in the coming years.”