Board Chairperson, Dr. Ali Elquammah, shares his vision for AABS and Management Education in Africa

Over the past 12 years, AABS has done a tremendous job to enhance the image of African Management Education throughout the continent. In doing so, it has seen significant growth in terms of quantities of members that join as the engagement and interaction taking place between members and AABS work streams-the AABS Secretariat, Teaching the Practice of Management (TPM) workshops, Research excellence Workshops, AABS Connect annual conferences, Case Study Competition, etc.

Many recent writings and reports on Management Education in Africa mentioned AABS as the leading constructive change driver.

1. You have been on the AABS Board for several years now and have seen the organization grow. What drives your passion for AABS and business education in Africa?

HEM Business School joined the Association of African Business Schools—AABS back in 2011 and two years later it hosted, for the first time in North Africa, the Annual Conference of the Association.  I was asked then by AABS leadership to join the Board.  I accepted with no hesitation because I have this burning desire to put African Business Schools on the map of Global Management Education. When I returned back to my country after a long journey in the United States, I joined HEM BS, one of the leading private business schools in Morocco.  As I came from a pure Finance and Technology backgrounds, I needed to build an international academic network.  So I started taking part in international academic conferences organized by the leading associations in the field of management education.  To my surprise, in most maps presented by prominent speakers, the African continent was always discounted or presented as a dark spot to a point where one of the executives back in 2007 said “We have accredited members from all over the world except from Africa where there are no accreditable business schools”.  Unfortunately, even as recently as 2017 you’d find articles about management education saying that “In recent decades business schools have spread rapidly from North America through Europe to Asia and beyond”.  In other words, there is somewhat a tacit consensus stating that there are no real African business schools worth mentioning.

2. What do you believe is the role of an African business school?

Nelson Mandela in June 1994 outlined the promising landscape of the new Africa in the following manner:

“We must face the matter squarely that where there is something wrong in how we govern ourselves, it must be that the fault is not in our stars but in ourselves that we are ill-governed.”

The role of an African business school (BS) is like the role of any business school elsewhere and that is to train future managers/leaders to be both socially responsible and response-able to whatever comes their way.  African countries have been faced with managing issues and societal changes associated with rapid economic growth.  African Business Schools must take responsibility for training adequate talent that will help stimulate businesses that can begin to fill the job creation and employment gap.

For the time being graduates, coming out most African BS have deficiencies on a number of dimensions.  African young graduates and managers cannot lead change well.  They lack soft skills and operationally they don’t communicate well; in addition to the fact that there is a culture of weak integrity in dealing with subordinates.

There is a general consensus amongst African BS Deans and other actors of higher education in management that mimicking a western model of what a BS ought to be will be an egregious mistake.  Management education is not a Hard Science; it is more sensitive to the Country, the Culture, and the Context in which acquired competencies will be applied.  In other words, African Business Schools have the duty to put the text (the content of the courses taught and the research produced) in the context (impact and relevance on/for the local environment).  This is by no means an exclusivist view; the idea is to take the best from all the world existing models and leave the rest that does not fit in the business school’s own environment.  According to a report produced by the African Management Initiative (AMI), 99.6% of firms in a country like Nigeria employ fewer than 10 workers; would it be logical to teach Nigerian students how to manage fortune 500 companies in the United States through Harvard BS case studies?

In sum, if  business schools are to make strong headway in Africa they cannot solely offer the same curricula as their US or European counterparts whose case studies and teaching methods typically address the needs of larger local and multinational corporations.  They must develop and use African case studies, business and leadership theories.

3. In what direction do you hope to take AABS in the next two years?

Our strategy will essentially be member centric.  We will focus on making AABS an efficient revolving platform willing to work with all the other associates and partners, international players of management education i.e. AACSB, GMAC, GBSN, EFMD, PRME, etc. to bring value to its members and further advance management education in Africa.  AABS will also seek to create synergies with businesses and industries operating in Africa.  The idea is to foster the use of collective intelligence and the wisdom of the many.  Having said that, included in our strategy is a plan to put together task force teams selected from our member network schools and partners to assess the existing situation in each of the five regions of Africa, which are North, South, West, East, and Central and propose proper solutions that will tackle the different challenges that African business schools are now facing.  We are thinking of a task force about the use of technology both in teaching and in governing BS, a task force about Entrepreneurship and the creation and incubation of Startups, a task force to assess the state of Ethics and Sustainability, one more to assess the degree of internationalization of our member base, another one to SWOT out the research status in the five different regions, one that will conduct a study on the different types of leadership in Africa, and a last one that will look deeply into what the specificities of each African country are; each country must clearly be understood in terms of their own context and culture.  We are very much aware that growth of African economies requires a stronger African focus and approach to management education as well as a focus on the diversity of the 54 countries of Africa.

This exercise will give a broad view to management educators in different parts of Africa that will help them better understand the important aspects of Africa’s advantages and distinctiveness rather than slavishly copy existing models of management education and management development.

Additionally, in order to maintain its position as the largest African Association dedicated to promoting excellence in business and management education through capacity building, collaboration and quality improvement, it is essential that AABS’s digital communications channels adopt 21st century technology solutions that answer the demands of its members’ network.

Therefore, we’ll be proposing a significant overhaul of the AABS website, moving it from AABS 0.5 to AABS 3.0.  The new website will seek to address some of the limiting problems, while also adapt to new technologies that will significantly enhance engagement and allow for greater interaction with our mission and vision.

Currently and because of our website existing architecture, we’re heavily dependent on the good will of an external web provider/developer as no changes could take place even for few words in the body of a webpage without their intervention, which proves to be tedious and time consuming given the limited human resources that AABS has. We need a website swift and user friendly enough to allow our communication staff from the Secretariat office to do instant simple changes on a webpage with no risk to interrupt the internal database and its rules-based features.

The new website development has to be light enough to respond quickly to smart phones and tablets knowing that more of our users are using what we commonly call nowadays the post PC devices.

In addition, the visual appearance does not adequately represent AABS’s dynamic visual identity and its network members, whom look to AABS as a demonstration of leadership and a technology savvy body.

The new website needs to make it very easy for its visitors to find the key sections, including the application to join, list of key resources, AABS AccreSys eligibility and other documents, as well as AABS network updates.

4. What do you anticipate to achieve with the AABS Accreditation Project?

Many studies on management education in Africa mention that the quality standards in most existing business schools do not inspire confidence.

We are in the process of analyzing the philosophy underlying AABS Accreditation System or AABS Accresys and the challenges we will be facing for its effective implementation.

AABS Accresys aims not only to achieve the recognition of quality for top schools but  also to come up with creative ways to help developing African BS improve their quality through the need to meet the eleven standards that AABS Accresys will be focusing on, which are:

  1. Relevance to the African context
  2. Mission, Vision, and Strategy
  3. Governance
  4. Resources
  5. Students and Alumni
  6.  Faculty
  7. Staff
  8. Internationalization and external relations
  9. Programs
  10. Research
  11. Impact on Africa

AABS Accresys is conceived to respect the principles of Ubuntu in being inclusive, accepting diversity, and more importantly in considering the economic, social, political, and cultural environments the Business School is operating in.  Like aforementioned, as it stands right now most African Businesses and Business Schools are willfully blind to the environment in which they are operating in.

We see AABS Accresys as a catalyst to African business schools for opening pathways for value-enhancing institutional or program change and, at the same time, as a system of checks and balances that encourages reflection, where needed, on continuous improvement.  Therefore, AABS Accresys will promote no “One Size Fits All” models and would definitely not aim at Macdonalizing the African BS through intense mono-dimensional standardization.

5. What excites you about AABS Connect 2018 and what can delegates expect?

It has been observed that one among the critical variables that positively influenced the advancement of developed world economies is the synergy that exists  between the world of Higher Education and Research and governments/Industry. One of the strategies has been a steady flow of people between academia, business and government which both cements and enhances the relationship between the three critical segments of society.

As stated in our strategy, AABS need to work diligently to construct strong bridges between Business schools and Business/Industry in order to create a viable management environment and to demonstrate clearly to all stakeholders that management education could have a direct, measurable impact on corporate performance and economic growth.  In the end, the real clients of any Business School are not the students but rather the Businesses.  Therefore, Business Schools have to seek, on the one hand, to impact companies through the integration of their graduates with the right set of competencies and, on the other hand, to learn from the experiences and practical aspects of business from their partner companies in order to match their programs to field realities.   Synergies with the professional world comes with, but not only, student company internships as well as the participation of many company CEOs and managers in course/seminar development and delivery and in them sitting in Business School’s Advisory Board, research project committees, etc.

The central theme for our upcoming annual conference, the AABS-Connect 2018 that will be hosted by the University of Dar es Salaam Business School in Tanzania, is “Business Schools Engagement with Industry: Models, Lessons and Impact on Africa”, where we’ll be honored to have as a Key note speaker Professor Nkenda, Secretary in Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Marketing  along with many other prominent speakers who will tackle the value of linkages between African Business Schools and industry and the different strategies to make these partnerships possible and sustainable.