12 May 2012

MBAs of the Future: Sustainability and What It Means For African Nations

By Julianna Davies.

The term “business sustainability” has become a popular buzzword in contemporary MBA programs. Today business graduates are exploring the various methods by which corporate entities can become more lucrative and less wasteful. These strategies are especially needed in Africa – a continent whose valuable resources are far outweighed by human poverty and corporate irresponsibility. The response to the demand has been a drastic increase of programs offering MBA courses and on campus that focus on Africa and the struggles unique to developing countries. Corporations, too, are looking for ways to involve African nations in a more global concept of business.

Though various definitions for sustainable business exist, the term typically refers to a corporate entity that not only makes economic progress, but also implements eco-friendly measures to ensure the environment is not sacrificed for the sake of productivity. For example, Sustainable Business Forum writer Derek Wong recently named Coca-Cola – a $20 billion food and beverage industry giant – as a model for sustainable business. Under the facilitation of Partners in Project Green, Coca-Cola has not only increased revenue but also reduced its environmental impact, thanks to eco-friendly measures like energy conservation, limited water usage and recyclable packaging. Other partners in this project include Xerox, Hewlett-Packard and LoyaltyOne. Strategies such as these would greatly benefit African businesses.

Africa’s challenges on the business front are largely related to education and infrastructure. Most countries have access to abundant resources and manpower--they just lack a way to transport those critical resources into a healthy business market. Most African business owners do not attend college, and most nations lack an organized government infrastructure to effectively oversee corporate operations. The results are disastrous, wrote TriplePundit contributor Brittany Lyons in November 2011. Since many African businesses are grossly mismanaged, their day-to-day operations often wreak havoc on the environment. This depletes resources needed to sustain viability, both of company and society. Moreover, Lyons found that most Africans who earn graduate or doctorate business degrees ultimately leave the continent.
Many economic experts have characterized Africa as an economic black hole. The continent is not necessarily doomed, however. Today, many MBA programs are choosing to view the continent as a vast opportunity for growth. They are training students and future business leaders from across the globe accordingly.

Increased business opportunities are the main focus of the Sustainable Entrepreneurship MBAs for Africa (SEEMBA) program at Colorado State University. SEEMBA focuses on generating start-up companies as a crucial step toward overall job growth. As companies are founded and reliable jobs are created, entire economies get a boost. Increased household income eventually improves economic conditions and inspires social progress. The result is an 8-point cycle that ultimately arrives at more opportunities for entrepreneurs.
Another program focused on improving Africa’s economic standing is Wharton’s Wealth Generation Program, which de-emphasizes funding through charitable donations to showcase the benefits of long-term, sustainable projects. Charity programs have been a long-standing source of African revenue over the past few decades. In recent years, many African universities have also begun incorporating sustainable business into their respective MBA curricula. These include Witwatersrand University in South Africa, University of Nigeria and University of Ghana Business School.

In addition to these academic institutions, many African business education programs are leading the charge to implement sustainable practices on the continent. IFC Sub-Saharan Africa works directly with business owners to improve company management, attract investors and stimulate job growth. African Center for Education and Sustainability, Inc., emphasizes educational opportunities as an important precursor to running a sustainable business. Some programs focus on specific aspects of the African job market, such as Bayer Southern/East Africa, which works directly with farmers to improve technical strategies and effectively manage their own agro-businesses. African Wildlife Fund also educates local farmers, as well as women, about sustainable business-related projects.

Profitable, eco-friendly African businesses have been historically rare. But as sustainable business practices are explored worldwide, companies and academic institutions are working to bring this relatively new corporate philosophy to our planet’s most impoverished continent. After centuries of economic struggle, many experts agree that these steps may finally catch Africa up with the rest of the corporate world.

Julianna Davies is a part-time, freelance writer that seeks out topics around environmentally sustainable business practices and the industries/companies that implement these said practices. She hopes her writing can serve as a catalyst for holding more fruitful and engaging dialogues all across the world.