Sharon Mazimba, MBA ’19, wrote this on behalf of the Olin Africa Business Club.
Olin Business School this spring is launching its first ever Africa-focused course, “Africa Business Landscapes.” The idea for the course emerged when members of the newly formed Olin Africa Business Club—and, more specifically, OABC President Ony Mgbeahurike—noticed something missing from the curriculum: Africa.
The continent has seen major demographic changes, including a rising working age population, which continue to underlie mega-trends on the continent, availing African countries the opportunity to convert these changes into substantial demographic dividends and future economic growth.
Given the sheer population potential of more than 1 billion people aged 16-49 growing at 2.5 percent annually, and the rising African middle class, the continent is positioned to be a significant business destination from consumer, commercial, and labor perspectives.
Mgbeahurike felt future Olin students and potential global business leaders should be aware of and learn how to leverage such opportunities in their workplaces and their future business endeavors. Therefore, he enlisted the support of faculty, administration, and OABC board members toward introducing an Africa business course.
“The vision for this course started during the inception of the Olin Africa Business Club in fall 2017,” Mgbeahurike said. “Among our club objectives is to infuse Africa’s business literature into Olin’s curriculum, educating future leaders from WashU on the dynamic economies within Africa.”
The course dovetails nicely with Olin’s strategic plan, which includes a call to expand the global focus of students as they prepare for their careers.
Building support from faculty
Mgbeahurike further enlisted the support of David Meyer, senior lecturer in management, whose interests and research in international business and emerging markets made him a clear choice to teach the course.
“Approaching Dr. Meyer on designing and teaching this course wasn’t a hard sell,” Mgbeahurike said. “Dr. Meyer already teaches other courses on emerging markets, including Asian business networks, thus, I felt he’d be the best fit.”
He said the pair worked on the Africa Business Landscape course by reviewing Africa’s vibrant business sectors and gathering feedback from graduate students about what their business interests in Africa would be. The result was a 1.5 credit elective that will be offered in spring 2019.
“This course will join a select few business schools in the United States to offer such a learning opportunity,” Meyer said. “This positions Olin Business School as a contributor to this emerging opportunity for business in Africa.”
The course will be intensively interactive, focusing on conceptual frameworks across business sectors such as finance, manufacturing, technology, agriculture, natural resources, retail, and tourism.
“These business opportunities will be framed in the context of political change, the legacy of colonialism, urbanization, and trends in transportation and communication infrastructure development,” Meyer said.
Daniel Elfenbein, a member of the academic committee that approved the course, agreed, noting that the time is right to develop a deeper understanding of the historical factors that shaped the business climate in Africa.
“Ony and Professor Meyer brought the committee a great proposal,” said Elfenbein, associate professor of strategy. “Although the continent is comprised of more than 50 countries, Africa can as a whole can be understood as a key emerging market with a population on the order of India or China.”
The OABC was formed early fall 2017 and consists of current second-year MBA students: Ony Mgbeahurike (President), Matilda Thomas (VP Alumni Relations), Sharon Mazimba (VP Events), Chioma Ukeje (VP Finance), and Eric Onteri (VP Communications). The club seeks to promote Africa among all aspects of the business school through events, career opportunities for African students, growing African student enrollment, and hosting an African business forum — the first of which took place in March 2018.