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Impact | Learning with cases in Africa

Volume 18, Number 12
December 2012

Nicole Haggerty, together with a team of Ivey HBA students, is developing African managerial talent.

haggerty-impact-09.jpgMany of Canada's business leaders have learned through the case study method. One day the same may be said of business leaders in Africa.

That's the vision behind Service Learning in Africa, a new HBA elective designed by Ivey Professor Nicole Haggerty. For five weeks last spring, 18 Ivey students visited four business schools in Kenya, Rwanda, and Ghana, where they taught cases to 378 African students, wrote six cases, and did a research project on entrepreneurship.

The new course is an outgrowth of Ivey Publishing's 39 country initiative, launched last year by Professor Paul Beamish, Director of Ivey Publishing and the Engaging Emerging Markets Research Centre. This initiative, inspired by the UN Millennium Development Goals, made Ivey Publishing's case library available for free to the 39 countries in the world with the lowest GDP.

Despite the challenges in low-income African countries, economic growth is beginning to pick up. African business schools are at the forefront of developing management talent, and some see case-based business education as one way to do it. "There is a large appetite in Africa for cases," says Haggerty. "Cases are recognized as a world class methodology for teaching business skills, and of course Ivey has the second largest case library in the world."

Although the 39 country initiative makes cases accessible, African schools and students still face the challenge of learning how to use them. The goal of Service Learning in Africa is to develop this capability. Says Haggerty: "The basic idea is to put two groups of young people in the same room: future African leaders and future Canadian leaders, to learn from each other."

Haggerty is excited about the results of the first year of the program. In addition to transforming the lives of 18 Ivey HBAs, the experience introduced African students to a new world of learning. "For students used to a hierarchical structure, it was the first time in their education that they were asked to say what they thought and form their own judgements," she says. "Many found it quite liberating."

African faculty members were enthusiastic as well. They participated in case teaching workshops taught by Haggerty, and watched with interest as Ivey students taught cases to their classes. They also welcomed the six new cases written by Ivey students. 

A lack of African based-cases is a challenge, says Haggerty. "That's why an important part of this project was to develop cases with local content. Although business students everywhere need to understand global issues, they also need to see business decision-making that's relevant to the world they know." African cases also build awareness globally of the business opportunities in Africa.

The research component of the course focused on understanding how micro-entrepreneurship develops in "informal" economies.  Because of a limited job market, entrepreneurship is a way of life for many Africans. It's also encouraged by governments.

Ivey students interviewed 117 entrepreneurs from a wide variety of micro-businesses: from the sale of water and watermelon to phone cards. "This research is intended to give us some insight into the lives and actions of these entrepreneurs, who create their own opportunities out of necessity," says Haggerty.

Haggerty is in the process of evaluating the interviews. She is planning a series of articles for the Ivey Business Journal (IBJ) in collaboration with Ivey professor Oana Branzei, who also does research in the field of economic informality in Africa. These articles will describe the business context of each country and how universities are developing talent through case based education.

Haggerty hopes to expand Service Learning in Africa to include Tanzania and Uganda next year, and ultimately involve up to 40 Ivey HBA students. She looks forward to a day when cased based learning is part of the institutional culture of African business schools. "These students are the future leaders who will help these countries solve problems like poverty and poor healthcare," says Haggerty. "If schools can develop the management talent of these leaders, then good things will continue to evolve in their economies and political systems."


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