Free Business Education Boosts African Economy

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Monday, April 29, 2024
By Nick Barniville
Photo by iStock/Hirurg
ESMT Berlin offers online programs designed to make young Africans more employable by enhancing their skills in STEM and business fields.
  • Seventy percent of Africans are under 30 years old, and 83 percent of those entering the labor market are unemployed.
  • ESMT Berlin’s Ghana1000 program provides recent university graduates with skills in data analytics and business intelligence that will make them more valuable to employers.
  • Because the program is offered online and facilitated by local instructors, graduates are more likely to stay in Africa and contribute to the local economy.

Regions frequently experience economic success when they boast populations with high levels of expertise in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and math. According to research from the Brookings Institute, STEM-oriented economies perform more strongly on economic indicators such as innovation, employment, and export capabilities.

STEM-dependent areas include manufacturing, energy, pharma, artificial intelligence (AI), and the Internet of Things, among others. Each of these sectors continues to be a driving force behind the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the future of work.

A focus on STEM fields is particularly important for emerging nations, so it’s crucial for these countries to provide youth populations with access to higher education in high-tech subjects. As learners develop their skills and knowledge, they create a more capable and competent workforce, which leads to an economy with increased productivity and innovation capacity. Learners who both pursue business education and acquire STEM skills will gain the knowledge to launch successful enterprises, thus creating new jobs and economic development opportunities across sectors.

In regions across Africa, where the youth population is already large and expected to grow, training is especially critical. Currently, around 70 percent of the African population is under 30. According to estimates from the United Nations, Africa will experience the largest relative increase in population size of all continents by 2030, with young adults accounting for more than 40 percent of its inhabitants. Not only that, but young people in Africa are also predicted to make up 42 percent of young people worldwide. At the same time, 83 percent of young workers entering the labor market in Africa each year remain jobless.

That’s why it’s essential to provide the youth of Africa with access to education, particularly in the STEM fields. In pursuit of this goal, ESMT Berlin is partnering with Industry Immersion Africa (iiAfrica), a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing together the worlds of academia and industry. The organization, which is based in Cape Town, was established by two members from the school’s leadership team and a Ghanaian mathematician from the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS).

iiAfrica is singularly focused on closing the employability gap for STEM graduates in Africa by providing relevant upskilling programs and internship opportunities.

Training in Place

A key aim of iiAfrica is to create STEM-related programs that keep graduates in Africa. Too often when students pursue education abroad, they never return. This means that while individual students benefit from inbound scholarship programs, their home countries lose out on their talent and skills.

Here’s an example. Since 2012, there have been 52 MBA and MSc candidates from developing countries who came to ESMT Berlin when they were awarded Kofi Annan Fellowships, which provide full tuition and living stipends. Of this group, thus far only 30 percent of the MBA graduates have returned to their home countries after completing their studies in Germany. Of the MSc graduates, the figure is just 5 percent.

Too often when students pursue education abroad, they never return. This means that while individual students benefit from inbound scholarship programs, their home countries lose out on their talent and skills.

On the one hand, ESMT Berlin is committed to supporting talented African scholars who follow their professional aspirations wherever their passions take them. The school also strives to build a student base that reflects the diversity of the world’s population. On the other hand, school officials also see the value of designing programs that encourage learners to employ their new knowledge closer to home.

If developing economies are to benefit from the knowledge that students acquire through higher education, more in-country programs are needed. In many cases, such programs can be delivered online by established business schools from developed nations. As students in emerging economies have a chance to study personalized, world-class material, they enhance their transferable skills, boost their job prospects—and become valuable resources for local industry.

The Ghana1000 Program

To increase the number of STEM graduates who stay in Africa, iiAfrica currently offers two programs: the Industry Immersion Program and the Ghana1000 program. A third, the Entrepreneurship Immersion Program, is in development.

Ghana1000 is a National Immersion Program launched in September 2023 in partnership with the Government of Ghana’s National Service Scheme (NSS). The NSS program provides work experience for new graduates while ensuring important sectors in Ghana do not lack the human resources necessary for continued national development. All university graduates in Ghana are required to enter the NSS.

The Ghana1000 program is open to all recent STEM graduates of Ghanaian universities. By providing students with eight weeks of virtual training in data analytics and business intelligence skills, the program enables graduates to contribute more to their host organizations during their required year of national service. The program’s secondary aim is to increase the number of graduates who are retained by their host organizations once they’ve completed their time with the NSS.

Faculty from ESMT Berlin provide academic content for Ghana1000 under a free license agreement. The program covers core subjects such as leadership, organizational behavior, entrepreneurship, and data analytics. Local academic tutors are hired by iiAfrica and trained to teach the content by volunteers from Academics Without Borders, a Canadian nongovernmental organization. Because the program is taught by local talent, it also builds capacity in the region’s educational sector. The live and virtual classrooms are facilitated through a Zoom campus.

Ghana1000 is entirely free for candidates, in part because of generous support from partners. The Mastercard Foundation Ghana is sponsoring the pilot year. Global online learning platform insendi is providing its platform license and Harvard Business Publishing is providing learning materials, both on a pro bono basis.

The Ghana1000 program, which is open to all recent STEM graduates of Ghanaian universities, provides students with eight weeks of virtual training in data analytics and business intelligence skills.

The Ghana1000 program is based on the Industry Immersion Program (IIP), a pan-African initiative that has run since 2017 as a cooperative venture between ESMT Berlin and AIMS. The IIP, which utilizes teaching materials and faculty from ESMT Berlin and the University of Victoria in Canada, has annual cohorts in South Africa, Ghana, Rwanda, Cameroon, and Kenya. Through internships and postgraduate employment, the program develops business links between African graduates and both German and local businesses that operate in Africa.

The academic content of Ghana1000 is complemented by a work-readiness program delivered primarily by alumni of the IIP. This part of the training emphasizes skills such as critical thinking, empathy, and good communication. After the program, STEM graduates can learn about different options for professional development by attending regular webinars with alumni and other business leaders from across Africa.

The First Cohorts

While Ghana1000 officially will launch in Accra during the Industry Engagement Forum in late May, it already graduated its first cohort of 750 students in November 2023. The second group of 410 participants began in March 2024, which means the program will achieve its target of training more than 1,000 graduates in the first year.

Participants in the first cohort were pleased with the opportunity to expand their abilities and connect with business professionals. One of them was Adama Yussif, who praised the program for helping students acquire soft skills, data analytics skills, and the knowledge to be “effective and efficient at their workplaces.”

Another one was Adom Yaa Afrakomaa Amponsem, who said that, in addition to mastering specific skills such as the ability to use Microsoft Power BI, she became a better team player and built a solid foundation for transitioning from academia into industry. She added, “The most valuable aspect of Ghana1000 for me was having access to world-class professionals and lecturers to guide me along my journey.”

A Model With Impact

When professionals understand and can interpret data, they gain vital insights into the business world. STEM graduates who can work productively with data will contribute to the success of their organizations. Because the Ghana1000 initiative provides participants with up-to-date knowledge in an international learning environment, it delivers significant value to Ghanaian industry. The initiative also supports Ghana’s adoption of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, ensuring that the country embraces and benefits from rapid technological developments.

At ESMT Berlin, the hope is to significantly grow the Ghana1000 program over the next five years and extend the model to other African countries. By 2035, iiAfrica aspires to train one million graduates through its programs. The impact on Ghana—and all of Africa—could be profound.

Nick Barniville
Founder of Gomera Tech, Non-Executive Director of iiAfrica, Board Member of ESMT’s Circle of Friends, and Former Associate Dean of ESMT Berlin
The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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