Today, Tuesday, June 11th, the Mediterranean School of Business (MSB) and Babson College will be co-hosting the 10th anniversary of the Global Business School Network at la Résidence Hotel in Tunis. The theme of the conference is “Education, Employment, and Entrepreneurship.” The conference will feature the participation of top business schools in the world including the London School of Business, INSEAD, MIT Sloan, and the University of Maryland.
Tunisia Live recently sat down for an exclusive interview with Guy Pfeffermann, former Chief Economist at the World Bank and the founder and CEO of GBSN.
TL: You have had a career as development economist at the World Bank for more than 40 years. What made you start this entrepreneurial venture after your retirement ?
Pfeffermann: People retire and if they don’t play golf or fish and they are used to an active life, they get into volunteer organizations. My case was different because we started thinking about GBSN several years before I retired, when I was at the International Finance Corporation, which is a part of the World Bank for the private sector. The World Bank and the IFC lend and provide technical assistance, but have never done anything for business education. So once in a while somebody would come up with an idea to do something like endowing professorial chairs in different universities in developing countries or endowing for faculty mentoring, but none of that happened. So in the end we decided that maybe a handful of us could start providing something very low cost that has a lot of leverage. That meant a networking approach as opposed to something like funding chairs.
We developed the concept of essentially linking business schools in developing countries with top business schools that have a lot of experience, but that model appeared to be totally wrong because the top schools were about as interested in Africa as the other way around.
One of our first projects involved Peter Bamkole, Founder of the Enterprise Development Center of the Pan-African University in Lagos, Nigeria. He will be at our conference in Tunis. We worked with him for three years setting up a six-month certificate in entrepreneurial management. They take very small entrepreneurs who have three to five employees, and during the six months they don’t have any professors – they don’t hire any professors, because they’re all practitioners.
In order to build such an initiative and grow GBSN successfully, it is absolutely necessary to have high-level connections and contacts – those you don’t have when you’re 25 . The idea was, right from the beginning, to bring generations together. So some of my colleagues were near retirement while others were 25 or 28. It’s the complementarities between these skill sets what made the job done.
TL: What were the key observations that showed you the problem of developing countries is mainly a problem of mismanagement and governance ?
Pferffermann: First, you notice the abnormal number of expatriates on the ground, especially in French-speaking countries. They are not only in top positions but also in middle management. You start wondering why these people, who are extremely expensive, are there.
Ten years ago, there was a big international brewery that was looking for inventory managers in Ghana and they had hundreds of applications, but none of them was suitable. This is why they had to hire very expensive expatriates. There’s a lack of good training for local people to take on these jobs.
In Kenya, for example, top public health directors from 18 districts went through a leadership development program. The number of fully immunized children under one year old and the number of women who delivered their children with a skilled birth attendant increased sharply . Where the program was not offered, that coverage did not increase. The difference was very clear and the results were consistent. Mismanagement is everywhere, not only in the public sector but particularly among NGO’s who spend most of their time writing proposals redrafting proposals without doing their jobs. There’s a missing element in development that neither the World Bank or the African Development Bank adds, which is to inject management skills.
TL: If you were to sketch the profile of the ideal African manager who will be able to address the current challenges, what would it look like?
Pfeffermann: Last Year, GBSN became a co-founder of the African Management Initiative. Based in Johannesburg, they have developed a LinkedIn-style network called the Virtual Campus. They look for African managers who select and recruit each other. Meaning, I have to say that I know that person and I know he is competent and ethical to build their network. Besides that, they are making educational materials and about to produce the first Massive Online Open Course. They are precisely directed to key competencies that African managers need.
TL: We have been speaking about the issue of bad governance for decades, but still reforms are lagging. Why do you think it is taking so long ?
Pfeffermann: It’s a huge problem. It’s not a problem that the World Bank has focused on very much. We have issued a new publication titled “Cutting a Path to Prosperity – How Education Pioneers are Building Better Business Schools for the Developing World and Why to be revealed at our conference. At the heart of the book are stories of ten business schools founded by real pioneers like Mahmoud Triki, the dean of MSB. Ten or fifteen years ago they were few good business schools in Africa except in South Africa. Today there are probably about 25 that are quite good. That’s already tremendous progress, but they are still too small to solve the problem. But today, you have actual models that you can experience and touch. A government official who has no idea what a business school looks like would attend these courses and have an “aha!” moment. Besides that, mobile and online learning provide a good basis for more access to business education and scaling. It is my dream to have governments inject good management education into public education.