New Generation of Business Leaders for Africa

By Stéphanie Schmidt, Managing Director, Ashoka, Paris office

New Generation of Business Leaders for Africa

Do you remember some of your most productive learning moments as an adult? They likely involved solving problems that were relevant to your life or working environment, and in a non-formal teaching environment. I vividly remember some “accelerated” learning experiences like arriving in Rwanda – my first Africa experience – with what I thought was a solid business plan for the production of essential oils with small-scale farmers and having to quickly understand how to deal with different types of players and dynamics at work – or enlightening conversations with veteran social entrepreneurs who have developed powerful insights with years of problem solving on multiple challenges related to creation of social and economic value.

Today corporates increasingly realize that adopting more inclusive and sustainable business practices reinforce the positive footprint they have on society at large, but can also trigger new business opportunities with consumers, producers or suppliers. The motivation behind these efforts is diverse: corporate strategists learn about “untapped” markets at the Base of the Pyramid; R&D managers seek to develop new products or services; supply chain teams seek to source products in a way that is more sustainable and transparent; and finally, an increasing number of employees – from plant workers to CEOs seek to reconcile what they do at work and aspirations to leave a better planet for their children.

However, inclusive business efforts are often fragmented and spear-headed by small teams, if not individuals. Only a few companies manage to develop a vision of “social impact in a for-profit way” that is anchored throughout the organization and based on scalable business models. Based on initial interviews and focus groups that we conducted with several corporations, we identified several specific training and on-going learning needs about these topics. First, for those few companies that seek to streamline a more inclusive approach throughout their business, the issue is how to quickly bring dozens of new project managers up to speed on these topics and to sensitize the functional/ business managers affected by these new business approaches. Second, for those companies with established sustainability/ inclusive business functions, the dedicated team often feels the need to step back, share and connect with other practitioners in the field in order to progress in terms of knowledge, skills and networks.

In order to meet these needs, HEC Paris Business School (ranked second worldwide for executive education by the Financial Times) – Ashoka, the largest global network of social entrepreneurs – and Hystra a leading consulting firm in hybrid strategies – have joined forces to launch an Executive Education program on Inclusive Business in 2014. This program, away from the classroom, combines sessions about applied inclusive business strategy and operations, with experiential learning, peer learning and encounters with key stakeholders. After two successful editions led in France with a focus on mature economies, a program with a focus on Africa and more generally developing countries will be for the first time and will take place in Johannesburg South Africa, November 9-13 2015. Executives from companies such as SAB Miller, GSK, Sodexo, McCain, Danone and Renault have already joined the program.

In addition to corporate participants, we are targeting 25% of leaders from the social entrepreneurship sector, citizen or public sectors who are using the power of market-based approaches for solving social problems, and/ or who are working with corporates to deliver social and economic value. The course will serve as the engine to grow a global community of inclusive business leaders as well as a hub to create and disseminate applied knowledge related to these topics.

We trust that this program can contribute to further building the field by enabling more companies to engage and more people within companies to be prepared for the challenges ahead. Be part of this change by spreading the word about the program in your networks or joining the first Africa cohort for this fully certified course.

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