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Training a million managers

by Wanjiku Mbugua

AMI sets itself an ambitious target to improve Africa’s management skills

Economic indicators point to the great opportunities in Africa.  However, one of the greatest challenges of doing business in the continent has for long been a shortage of high-quality local managers in large companies, governments as well as NGOs. Many young Africans are also said to lack the practical skills to secure jobs or start successful businesses. But South African-based African Management Initiative (AMI) is tackling the problem head on. Founded in 2013, AMI has set an ambitious target of training one million managers by 2023. The East African Business Times Magazine’s Tullah Stephen spoke to one of its founders, Jessica Harrison, about how the organisation plans to achieve the goal, the progress as well as challenges.

EABT: Who or what is AMI and how was it established?

JH: AMI is a social enterprise whose main goal is to leverage on technology to deliver practical, relevant and affordable management skills to managers and entrepreneurs across the continent. If Africa is to translate the opportunities of the next decade into greater prosperity and economic inclusion, it will need good managers to build competitive global companies, a thriving SME sector and visionary public and civil society institutions. Existing management education is generally inaccessible, elite, overly academic or sometimes irrelevant.


EABT: What were the key observations that showed you the problem of developing countries is mainly of mismanagement?

JH: In 2012 we did some research about the management gap in the continent. From this we realised the continent’s management capacity was holding it back. Africa is today at a turning point. Economies are growing, investment is on the rise, the population is also young, vibrant and large. For large corporates, SMEs and multinational investor,s it was a challenge getting the management talent needed to service Africa’s rapid growth. It was not easy to find skilled and experienced managers to drive development or implement public policy, for instance.

EABT: Talking about skilled and experienced managers, if you were to sketch the profile of the ideal African manager, what would he or she look like?

JH: Africa is experiencing exciting times with the growth in economies and increase in investment. Most employers want someone who is results oriented and has the personal drive to achieve set goals. But back to your question, I would say he or she should possess strong strategic planning skills encompassing analytical as well as good evaluation skills.

EABT: You plan to train one million skilled African managers by 2023. How does AMI plan to achieve this? What progress has been made so far?

JH: Yes, our target is to train one million skilled African managers by 2023. It is an ambitious but attainable target. First, when we launched we started by using the Virtual Campus approach, a free online learning and coaching platform. After that we introduced the Massively Open Online Course (MOOC), a high-quality free online introductory management course which was targeted at young African managers and SMEs. This programme was offered in partnership with leading business schools. Over time we thought of blending it with in person training and on-the-job training as well. We have blended the three to offer a complete package. We offer lessons about business basics: Managing money, people, oneself, projects.

EABT: Since 2012 when AMI was launched, how many people have signed up and graduated from the programme?

JH: Currently, our students are from all over Africa. Our biggest markets are Nigeria, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Zambia, South Africa and Ghana. The beauty of Internet-based learning is that we can be open to anyone. So far we have trained about 15,000 managers, those that are undertaking the blended learning currently total to 1,500. We also work with local partners to deliver our offline Learning Lab workshops and to build a broad footprint at grassroots level across the continent. These include technology hubs such as the iHub in Nairobi , business associations, training firms and colleges.

EABT: How much do the programmes cost and what are the teaching methodologies used?

JH: We mostly target corporates and we charge a fee of US$300 for a whole year programme. This is quite affordable compared to engaging personal trainers who normally charge twice the amount. But overall, people should not look at the cost or certification. The key thing is the skills acquired.

EABT: Among the courses, which one would you consider the most sought after and why?

JH: Most people are looking for self-management as well as courses that help them manage other people. Managers want to be able to motivate their staff.


EABT: How are AMI’s programmes different from others offered by universities across the continent?

JH: Our main focus is education that is practical oriented. A manager learns 10 per cent of skills through academics, 20 per cent through peer-learning or peer-support and 70 per cent through everyday managing. For the course, you have to work with an accountability partner; ideally someone from your own company. In the future, we plan to add automated matchmaking. There will be lots of different add-ons and personalised teaching, including eCoaching, personal developing plans, 360 feedback systems and just-in-time tools and resources. We have a range of local partners. We partner with Africa’s leading business schools to get the best content and the best teachers in Africa. Our business school partners are the Gordon Institute of Business Science in South Africa, Lagos Business School in Nigeria and Strathmore Business School in Kenya. We also work with local partners to deliver our offline Learning Lab workshops and to build a broad footprint at a grassroots level across the continent.

EABT: What is your organisation’s business model?
JH: We were previously a non-profit organisation. We are restructuring as a for-profit social venture to ensure sustainability. We hope to break even in the next three years. Our business model relies on income from paid certificates and paid premium memberships and facilitated workshops. We also want to propose offline learning apps. And we are looking for companies that want to sponsor courses.

EABT: What are some of the main challenges that AMI faces?

JH: Among the challenges is that this is a new concept. People are still cautious about it. 

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