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June 06, 2007

Collaborate, Collaborate, Collaborate

Towards the end of our first deep dive on the Africa focus area, a session that included 15 university students from all over the continent (including Uganda, Ethiopia, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania), it was a young man from right here in Nairobi that sent a strong and direct message to the business leaders, government officials and academics that will constitute the future GIO deep dives: “Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate.”

This simple request came from Athman Fadhili, an MBA student from the University of Nairobi, who had spent a large portion of the day imploring the private sector to take a more active role in the development of curriculum at African universities. And he was not alone in his desire to see this kind of public and private collaboration. In a day-long, wide-ranging conversation that focused heavily on the overburdened African university system, many expressed the need for increased involvement from the businesses that will one day employ these students. But no one said it any better than Athman. So I’ll let him tell you what he wants, and how he thinks it can get done.

In general, there seemed to be a high level of frustration and discontent with  government ability to steer the university system (and a few other major infrastructure challenges). And no one in that room underestimated that system’s role in fostering a culture of entrepreneurship. So the students were clearly reaching out to the private sector for help. Help in influencing the government to overhaul curricula; help in creating internships to give students more real world experience; help fostering students and the ideas through mentoring programs.

“The private sector is known for its ability to implement and sustain ideas,” said Kevit Desai, the ICT Governor of the Kenya Private Sector Association (KEPSA), an industry group. “But it’s important that they do things the right way.”

And there is at least one example of the right way. At Cida City Campus, a university in South Africa that caters to students from poor backgrounds, there is an entire school for entrepreneurs. Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin conglomerate, donated the school (called the Branson School of Enterpreneurship), and even set up a seed fund to get students the capital they need to launch their businesses.

The Branson School is more of a purely philanthropic endeavor. But what Athman is calling for is large corporations that have the funds and long-term vision to create centers of learning in African schools in exchange for qualified, trained employees. It seems as though more of them would be willing to do it if the government loosened up its controls.

In other news from today’s dive, we did an interesting exercise with the students. The tendency in meetings like this is to dwell on problems. But today we asked the students to think of things that have gone right in Africa, examples of entrepreneurship and innovation that can serve to inspire. And the list was too long to publish in just one blog.

But the highlights included: a mobile service from Kenya wireless provider Safaricom, called M-Pesa, that allows subscribers to maintain bank accounts on their phones, and transfer money to other Safaricom subscribers; a Ugandan Health Information Network that uses low-cost handhelds to transmit continuing medical education information to doctors in remote areas; and a couple of entrepreneurs in Kenya that fashioned sandals from used tire treads and sold them for $100 a pair.   

A student dive was a great way to kick off the Africa focus area, as we will now take the perspectives of the youth of Africa to the business, government, and academic leaders of the world. And if this dive was any indication, the order of the day is going to be: collaborate.

June 6, 2007 in Africa | Permalink


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I found this blog entry quite interesting!

It is worth considering, however, that -some- of the academic problems are not uniquely African. They may well be a consequence of the history of Colonial Europe, and the traditional European model of higher learning, combined with a lack of industrial economic base to motivate changes. The problems described can even be found in non-African countries that have a pre-Industrial Revolution European cultural heritage, but never became industrialized.

Of course Europe has changed a great deal, but in many under-developed countries, the legacy they left behind has remained largely static.

What may be missing, is what was developed in the industrialized West to solve this problem - The "Institute of Technology".

MIT was one of these originally, offering undergraduate programs to engineers (They didn't have a PHD program until the 1920s if I remember correctly).

My Alma Mater was one as well - U-Mass Lowell, originally "Lowell Tech" was an institution created to train engineers and technicians for the East Coast cotton and wollen mill trade. I suspect that Virginia Tech was a counterpart for the mining industry.

Industry-Academia collaberation has been a foundation of these institutions since their inception.

One of the great advantages here for IBM and others companies, is that there is no mystery about what needs to be done, and how to do it - They have been doing at Universities and Technical schools all over the globe for years. It's simply a matter of packing up the books, and taking the show on the road.

Posted by: Tim Raisbeck | Jun 6, 2007 3:26:39 PM

After doing a little homework, it became apparent that there are numerous small Technology Institutes throughout Africa. Apparently, it was recognized in the late 20th century, most notably in Kenya during it's rapid industrialization, that these schools were an important priority.

However, something is missing in the mix - That something is almost certainly industry participation. It is also very difficult to believe that African countries can maintain the number of these institutions they have, as effective, without consolidation.

Posted by: Tim Raisbeck | Jun 6, 2007 6:59:59 PM

Is a way of raising funds for schools to get access to internet and computers EACdirectory has come up with a "2009 SCHOOLS ONLINE PROJECT" where for a small fee of Kes. 2,000 you can promote a school with a website that they can use to access the globe and raise funds.

Check more info here:

Posted by: EACdirectory | Nov 19, 2008 6:09:38 AM

I remember a bible passage. Give the man a fish and he will eat in one day. But teach the man how to fish and they shall eat everyday. :)

Posted by: wench wear | May 25, 2010 2:16:15 PM

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