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George Babafemi: “I now know why China and the Chinese do what they do”

Three years ago, Pedro Nueno, the co-founder and board chairman of China European International Business School (Ceibs) in Shanghai, had a vision for an executive MBA programme in Africa – the Ceibs Africa Programme

Chinese companies were establishing themselves in Africa and there was a need for management education in the continent he says. Now, with many African countries celebrating 50 years of independence, that need is even more pronounced.

As the only EMBA programme from China to have a branch in Africa, Ceibs is very assured of its role. Kwaku Atuahene-Gima, professor of marketing and innovation management and executive director of the Africa programme, says; “Our programme [has] coincided very nicely with the Chinese foreign policy to help Africa and develop African businesses. We want to train the managers here, support the Chinese companies going to Africa and create inter-linkages that will allow us to build very strong bridges.”

Prof Nueno was no stranger to setting up MBA programmes in untested markets. A passionate life-long educator, Prof Nueno has been introducing the Harvard Business School model to developing economies since the 1970s. He set up the first MBA programme in Buenos Aires in the 1970s and created the first MBA programmes in China in the 1980s, which ultimately developed to become Ceibs.

A meeting with then president of Ghana John Kufuor in 2008 gave Ceibs the assurance that it would get the bureaucratic support from the Ghanaian government and the capital Accra was chosen as the location for the Ceibs Africa programme.

Prof Nueno immediately executed his idea, securing corporate sponsors such as Heineken and Coca-Cola as well as money from private foundations. A total of $1m was raised and Ceibs’s Africa Programme was born.

“Ghana is English speaking. It is a leader in development of education. It’s politically stable. Its economy is growing very fast. It’s a safe place to operate,” says Prof Atuahene-Gima.

Accra’s geographical location also offers good connections to New York, Frankfurt and Shanghai, giving Ceibs’s faculty an easy access point.

But it is the China factor that has proved to be the magical draw for the Ceibs Africa programme. “Students know that China has been very successful very quickly. They want to know: how can Africa learn from China to facilitate growth this way?” says Prof Atuahene-Gima. “They also understand that they have access to our very big alumni list.”

The Ceibs Africa programme has an identical academic curriculum to the EMBA offered in Shanghai. As yet there is no Accra campus; Ceibs uses a hotel and faculty members are flown in either from the Shanghai campus or partnership organisations.

The programme is losing money, however. The Ghanaian government does not support the programme financially, instead it operates on income from tuition fees and funds from Ceibs China. “Our goal is to be self-sustaining eventually,” says Prof Atuahene-Gima.

The inaugural class in March 2009 attracted 40 students, with a further 42 students in the second year. For the third year there is more regional variation with participants from India, Lebanon, Ivory Coast and Cameroon. The popularity of the programme has given Ceibs the confidence to raise tuition fees to $30,000.

Prof Atuahene-Gima is working on diversifying the programme, offering classes for $8,000 and smaller programmes for Chinese companies working, or planning to work, in Africa. A research institute to collect African case studies will start in 2011.

The challenges in Accra are not new for Prof Nueno: “It’s the software that’s more important than the hardware. A huge building does not make a company. Ceibs [Shanghai] did not get a campus until 1999.”

Despite its auspicious start, Ceibs is realistic about how fast the Africa programme can grow. He admits: “Africa is different from China. They don’t have the critical mass of millions of people. It’s not a homogenous population. And the country of Ghana has fewer people than Shanghai.”

Prof Nueno says there are lessons for Africa that only Ceibs can provide. “We’re born in China. We’re used to high-speed growth; we’re entrepreneurial; we’re ambitious; we’re familiar with quick expansion.”

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