On Saturday, the School of Management hosted its first ever Africa-focused symposium, the Africa Business Practicum.
The ABP is a one-day workshop that asked participants to explore the challenges of engaging in business in Africa. It employed a case-based approach, meaning that each participant was assigned to a small group to explore one of four challenges that African businesses face: financial analysis, new markets and growth, training and development or consumer retention.
Event organizers turned to Zoona, an entrepreneurial support firm based in South Africa and Zambia, for consultation on presenting the most timely challenges in Africa’s business world. Each group was given financial documents to prepare a short presentation on how they would approach and resolve their assigned cases. Participating students came from the SOM as well as other business schools, including Wharton, NYU Stern, MIT Sloan and Columbia Business School. Two African business schools in the Global Network — an international business school partnership founded in 2012 by SOM Dean Edward Snyder — also held similar events this weekend.
Barkot Tekle SOM ’15, one of the organizers of the event, said the practicum was unique in its approach to studying business challenges in Africa.
“It’s the only type of [conference where] case content meets competition in terms of the Africa business base,” Tekle said.
Tekle also said the inspiration for ABP stemmed from the Wharton Africa Business Forum, an event that members of SOM attended last fall. The event hosted hundreds of students, and some of the SOM attendees wanted to adapt the informational content to a smaller workshop setting to be hosted at Yale, Tekle said. Tekle added that, though the final format of the practicum was generally the result of student ideas, the ABP did receive broad institutional support from Yale.
Another organizer, Alisha Rahemtulla SOM ’16 SPH ’16, said the practicum accumulated almost $10,000 in funds from the MacMillan Center, Yale Law School, GNAM and ABP’s two financial sponsors, IBM and Atlas Mara.
Dayo Olopade LAW ’15 SOM ’15 said the “raw format” of the cases — meaning they provided students with an abundance of information and mimicked real life situations — made the experience of participating in the practicum more valuable.
“This gives [participants] the credibility to say, ‘I’ve gotten my hands dirty and executed on a complicated problem in Africa,’” she said.
Olopade also said one of the unique aspects of the practicum was that it facilitated collaboration between students from different schools. This will help create longstanding connections between participants, which was one of the goals of the event in the first place, she said.
Bita Diomande, a participant from MIT Sloan, said one of the parts of the conference she most appreciated was the networking and social aspect made possible by the hybrid composition of the teams. But Joelle Owona, another MIT student, said she would have liked to have more time allotted for networking throughout the day.
Looking forward, Olopade said the format of the practicum can be replicated, and she and her colleagues plan to host the workshop again next year.
Neil Samen SOM ’15, one of the event’s organizers, said the leadership team is also thinking about expanding the practicum to be a day and a half long and shifting the event’s focus from depth to breadth. Instead of focusing on one company with one set of problems, future participants may be asked to analyze problems picked from more than one company so that they can see the various concerns of different industries in Africa.
SOM Professor K. Sudhir said he thinks it would be beneficial to give students access to the case materials and contact information for their team members a week in advance, instead of providing only one day to start presentations from scratch. He said he thinks this added time would improve the quality of analysis.
SOM’s newly formed Africa Business and Society club will take charge of all future planning for iterations of ABP.
But beyond Saturday’s workshop, ABP organizers have the larger objective of initiating dialogue with Africa, Rahemtulla said.
“The idea is to bring in more Africa-related initiatives to SOM,” she said.