Field Stories

Managing a Critical Situation

2“In rural South Africa, a man arrived at the local hospital with the classic symptoms of heart failure. All that was needed to confirm the diagnosis, and decide upon an appropriate treatment, was one test. The first attempt to carry out the test was foiled by broken equipment. When a replacement device was found the doctor on duty discovered it had run out of paper on which to print the results. Unable to provide the patient with the vital test he needed, the doctor had to send the patient home. A few days later, they received news that the man had died. This patient died because someone forgot to order more paper.”

By Alicia Mitchell

This was a story told by Rebecca Harrison, Programme Director of the African Management Initiative (AMI), during the Wanted: Massive Numbers of African Managers and Entrepreneurs session at this year’s eLearning Africa conference. This man had died, Harrison explained, not as a result of medical complications but of managerial negligence; “management matters”, she went on, “because it underpins big issues”.

As a counterpoint, she also shared an example of good management having great outcomes in her recent personal experience of adopting a child: “People say that the process must be awful, but for us it took just three months, all thanks to a great manager. Through her hard work, she saved our little boy from a lifetime in care”.

Outlining the current situation of management training on the Continent, Harrison revealed that, currently, there is only one business school per ten million people in Africa, the majority of which fail to provide the quality teaching found elsewhere. In Africa, she explained, “in-house training is limited, the private training market is patchy, SME support is unsustainable and good role models are scarce”.

The African Management Initiative has set itself the ambitious goal of creating one million effective, professional and innovative African managers by 2023. To do this, the Initiative aims to entrench good practice by building a virtual community of effective managers and produce free online content for local peer learning and on-the-job training. In addition, the AMI will launch the first ever African management MOOC, in response to widespread demand from their users, on June 17th, 2013.4

Speaking of the attempts in Egypt to release the vast potential of the local workforce, Ahmed El-Sobky, Head of the Technical Office at the Information Technology Industry Development Agency (ITIDA), pointed to the necessity of encouraging an entrepreneurial spirit on the Continent, referring to the innovation strategy announced in Egypt in 2008, which set in motion efforts to encourage students in early study to be innovative entrepreneurs.

Horst Weinert, Managing Director of Festo Didactic, gave participants an insight into how he encourages a competitive, entrepreneurial attitude in his students and, in doing so, equips them with skills and a realistic hope of employment. By combining hands-on laboratory work using hardware that reflects current industry standards, with interactive eLearning programmes and competition-based projects, Weinert found himself leading a class of inspired, self-teaching students. “When the exams came round,” he beamed, “they knew it all! Half of them had jobs secured before the left, and the top five students left to set up their own companies, creating more employment as they did so.” The key behind these amazing results was the focus on competition and the blended use of eLearning, Weinert explained, which enabled the students to find things out for themselves and allowed the teachers to become “facilitators, rather than pushers”.

The recurring theme of the session continually returned to the skills gap between what industry needs and what current education systems supply. Ahmed El-Sobky highlighted the challenge faced by Egypt, where more than half a million Egyptians have enrolled in the country’s Universities: “Egypt is trying to convert this into a highly-qualified workforce” he said. Hopefully the innovative, industry-led initiatives shared in this session, and the growing clamour from across Africa for education to reform and address the modern demands of employers will ensure that this is a challenge that can be met.

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