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Europe’s business schools target Africa’s entrepreneurs

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European business schools are looking south to Africa. The continent is teeming with entrepreneurial talent, with a youthful population, rapidly urbanising economies and abundant natural resources. But many African entrepreneurs face obstacles that can hold them back, such as limited access to education, financing and mentorship.

Schools based in Europe are stepping up to help bridge this gap, offering tailor-made entrepreneurship programmes and expanding their presence deeper into Africa. In October, for instance, HEC Paris established a Master in Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Yamoussoukro, the administrative capital of west Africa’s Ivory Coast, partnering with a local institution, the Institut National Polytechnique Félix Houphouët-Boigny (INP-HB).

The 18-month programme aims to cultivate a new generation of African entrepreneurs, through HEC’s “learning-by-doing” methodology, emphasising practical experiences. One of the first students, Amon Hugues-Michel Amon, is determined to address the energy transition challenge in west Africa: the process of shifting away from fossil fuels to more sustainable alternatives.

Amon, a 30-year-old from Ivory Coast, plans to create a regulatory body to ensure the quality and safety of solar panel-installations. “I aim to use my business education to contribute to the development of my continent, to transform my idea into a business,” he says. “Reducing dependence on fossil fuels is critical to Africa’s future, and I want to be part of the transition.”

HEC Paris has been present on the continent since 2007. In 2018, the business school expanded its activities, opening a permanent office in Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s biggest city and economic capital. In the next five years, it plans to support 1,000 business projects through entrepreneurship programmes in Africa.

Philippe Oster, HEC’s director of international affairs, says: “Africa is the world’s youngest and fastest-growing continent. Unfortunately, there is a significant disparity between the number of young people searching for work and the job opportunities. Much of Africa’s challenge, therefore, lies in creating sustainable businesses that generate value and employment opportunities.”

In recent years, there has been a notable increase in the demand for business education from Africans, reflecting growing interest in fostering entrepreneurship and leadership. Some local business schools, in countries including South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya, are catering to this demand. Established local institutions include Lagos Business School and the University of Stellenbosch Business School. But, so far, provision of globally ranked schools on the continent is limited.

FT European Business Schools Ranking 2023

This story is from the ranking report publishing on December 4

The gap has not gone unnoticed by global institutions, with both European and US business schools, as well as Chinese counterparts, entering the African market. Shanghai’s China Europe International Business School (Ceibs) has set up a base in Ghana, for instance, while Duke University Fuqua School of Business, based in North Carolina, has offered executive education programmes.

Several European institutions offer degree programmes, short courses, workshops or mentorship initiatives in Africa. For example, Germany’s Frankfurt School of Finance and Management collaborates with the Université Protestante au Congo in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The partnership delivers an MBA programme for executives that has a growing focus on entrepreneurship, including an innovation course on which students learn to identify entrepreneurial opportunities in African markets.

“We created these courses in response to the needs of the market, with many students who want to establish their own businesses,” says Amelie Feuerstein, Frankfurt’s Kinshasa MBA programme manager. “There are huge opportunities for entrepreneurs in Africa, particularly in agribusiness, technology and the creative industries.”

INP-HB in Ivory Coast campus
HEC Paris partnered with INP-HB in Ivory Coast (pictured) for a masters degree in entrepreneurship and innovation

While European business schools provide education, they also bring global networks and partnerships that can help African entrepreneurs to expand their businesses beyond national borders. Brian Gregory, a senior teaching fellow at Lancaster University Management School in the UK, helps students at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, establish networks in Europe, recognising the important role of global connections in entrepreneurial success.

“Young businesses operating in north Africa often struggle to break into Europe. It’s only 36 miles across the Strait of Gibraltar [separating Europe and Africa], but it’s a big barrier,” Gregory says.

To continue these efforts, he plans to expand the Entrepreneurs in Residence network that he runs — consisting of founders who help with teaching and mentoring students — to Ghana, where Lancaster University operates a campus and delivers an executive MBA programme, which includes an entrepreneurship module.

European business schools face challenges, though, in adapting programmes to the unique needs and contexts of various African markets, as well as ensuring affordability and accessibility in a continent with significant poverty and economic disparities.

Henley Business School, for instance, delivers an Executive MBA programme from its Johannesburg campus in South Africa. However, the British school has found it more effective to provide entrepreneurial training in smaller forms and at different levels, including short certificate courses that cater to a broader population.

Adeyinka Adewale, associate professor of leadership ethics and entrepreneurship at Henley Business School
Adeyinka Adewale, associate professor of leadership ethics and entrepreneurship at Henley Business School © Getty Images/iStockphoto

Adeyinka Adewale, associate professor of leadership ethics and entrepreneurship at Henley, says that European business schools need to avoid a “saviour mentality”, and instead must understand the local context to tackle challenges such as access to funding and poor infrastructure.

“There are bigger headaches for entrepreneurs in Africa,” Adewale says, “but we believe in the potential of these programmes to build the people who build the businesses that, in turn, contribute to building Africa.”

Henley has trained more than 500 young entrepreneurs in west Africa through various courses, including the Nexus Project in partnership with Lagos Business School and Semicolon Africa, a Nigerian software training institute. Many European schools collaborate with local business schools, incubators, accelerators and established entrepreneurs. Such partnerships aim to create an ecosystem that facilitates the exchange of ideas, the development of connections and access to potential investors.

Spain’s Iese Business School, for example, has helped set up local business schools in Africa, including MDE in Abidjan and Strathmore University Business School in Nairobi, Kenya, which offer courses for local entrepreneurs. Iese continues to support them through its Africa Initiative, welcoming more than 300 African participants a year on modules at its Madrid and Barcelona campuses.

“We have increased our entrepreneurial footprint in Africa,” says Ermias Mebrate Mengistu, the director of Iese’s Africa Initiative, stressing the potential for businesses to drive economic growth, reduce unemployment and foster innovation. “Africa is the future in terms of population growth, so there’s a huge need to help businesses grow and create jobs.”

 

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