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Where Africans with big dreams are nurtured

By Linda Akwabi | February 26th 2017
MBA students during the opening of the ALU School of Business, in Kigali, Rwanda. (Photo: David Nkurunzinza/Standard)

Local universities offer a wide range of Master in Business Administration (MBA) programmes which attract a huge number of students.

But Andrew Karue and Emmanuel Ogombo were looking for something more. They wanted a university focuses on leadership and Africa. The two are professionals seeking to grow their management and leadership skills hence they settled for African Leadership University (ALU) which recently opened doors in Mauritius and Rwanda.

Mr Karue who works for UAP Old Mutual in Nairobi, is undertaking an MBA at ALU in Rwanda. He said it offers professionals the convenience of working while studying since the programme combines on-campus seminars and online study.

Students meet for about one week for extensive tutorials and while back home they interact with lecturers and other students through conference calls and skype.

“The curriculum is rich and it takes from the best in the world,” he told The Standard on Sunday during an interview at Kigali Convention Centre in Rwanda. The total fees for the course which runs 20 months is about Sh3 million (USD30,000) but this does not bother Karue as he believes it is a worthy investment.

“I took the first step, I applied for it. It’s like an exam where they test your character, intelligence and passion for Africa. I did an interview via conference and it went well, I was picked,” he said.

He was attracted by the university's focus on growing leaders for Africa with solutions to solve the continents problems.

“We need to be deliberate about making great leaders for Africa” he said. Mr Ogombo who is head of operations for World Wide Fund Kenya, was looking for an MBA that would add to his work experience and allow him to stay on the job.

He travels to the university in Rwanda once every three months for a nine days intensive course.

“I don’t go to class daily. My class is at my own time on my laptop,” he said. He said the university’s MBA offers the relevant knowledge not only about Kenya but cross-section of nations. “The relevance of the course is what is offered in top universities in the US at an affordable cost,” he says. Ogombo explained that the university offers knowledge for immediate use and not only theoretical purposes. He counts himself lucky for interacting with top CEOs who visit the university from time to time to offer lessons on management.

The university’s MBA emphasizes the importance of hard industry knowledge and draws from the expertise of successful entrepreneurs and business leaders’ experience in Africa . “Students have an opportunity to pick minds of CEOs and learn what they are looking for,” he said.

Ogombo said the fact that he was going to meet a cross section of nationalities was another attraction. He has interacted with nine Kenyans and students, faculty and CEOs from 65 nationalities since joining the programme. He said case studies on African companies open one’s mind to the business environment of the continent.

“I hope to improve my leadership skills to do more deliberately, to add value to my experience,” he said.

Right skills

Frederick Kenneth Swaniker, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of ALU, is passionate about changing the fortunes of Africa by imparting the right knowledge in students.

“We want the university to solve Africa problems. We also want students to be exposed to challenges Africa is facing,” he said.

He noted that many universities are not serving the business leadership needs of Africa.

Prof Catherine Duggan, the vice dean of the ALU School of Business, said the university is “a business school for Africa for Africans”.

Duggan who has spent time researching companies doing business in Africa, regretted that we do not have enough stories about how African businesses work.

She is confident that ALU can tell the story of African business.

“Harvard is an American school for Americans. It does not give more attention to Africa. ALU is a pan African school that requires a different approach,” she said.

She explained the university has designed flexible programmes to meet students’ needs while at the same time offering relevant knowledge. “Having people give up jobs and salaries and for employees to lose workers was a huge opportunity cost,” she said.

She said the MBA has six intensive weeks in the 20 month programme and students visit the Kigali campus three times a year.

The university creates content about Africa while some online course are provided by American Business schools like Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Duggan who is a former lecturer at Harvard said ALU offers world standard courses and students are taught by business leaders in Africa. She noted that the university course design has a Pan African business focus which is non residential and targets full time working students. The MBA class which started in September 2016 has 65 students. Out of these nine are Kenyans.

Speaking at Kigali Convention Centre in Rwanda when he welcomed the first batch of undergraduate students, Swaniker said ALU gives students an opportunity to design and chose things they want to learn to solve Africa problems.

The university admits students who are in top 10 per cent of class through a competitive process and only talented ones and those with leadership focus are picked.

Swaniker, 39, said the undergraduate programme is designed to ensure students have a one year work experience at the end of their studies. The undergraduate programmes are international business and trade, computer science and software engineering, actuarial science, entrepreneurship, and global challenges.

Swaniker explained that the global challenges course gives students an opportunity to decide what they want to learn to help solve problems back at home.

“Its like doing PhD at undergraduate where you can solve the problem and become an expert in your field,” he said. He noted that Africa faces challenges in healthcare, governance, education, infrastructure and job creation.

Swaniker explained that ALU also focuses on giving students the right knowledge to create jobs to address the unemployment in Africa.a said.

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