From Accra to Istanbul – Travel Tales From a Flat World

Seen from 33,000 ft above the Sahara, Tom Friedman is most certainly right—the world is flat. I am about halfway between Accra and Istanbul, a flight connection that a decade ago I never thought I would take.

 Growing up in Europe and later living in the U.S., I was used to thinking of the world as one of hubs and spokes. The hubs were Europe and the U.S., and maybe Japan, and the spokes reached into what was universally referred to as developing countries. You would fly in and out. There was no need to connect across.  No longer.

Four amazing days in Nigeria and Ghana are behind me and I look forward to four more in Turkey and Israel. All four countries symbolize the new and increasingly connected world that is flat even when seen from the ground. I was in Nigeria to connect with business leaders, meet Yale alumni and prospective students, and learn more about Lagos Business School. In Ghana I visited University of Ghana Business School, a member of the Global Network for Advanced Management, to recruit students for our Master of Advanced Management program, and again spent time with alumni, MBA prospects, and business leaders. 

University of Ghana Business School Presentation David Bach speaks at the University of Ghana Business School

In my first meeting in Lagos, Paramjit Pabby, group chief human resources officer of Dangote Group, the conglomerate controlled by Africa’s richest man, flat out told me that the next 20-25 years were Africa’s.  The conditions for sustained economic growth and human development across the continent were better than they had ever been, he explained.  His group has bold plans to expand across the globe, not just across Africa, and is looking for investment opportunities in similarly dynamic markets in South America and Asia. At home in Nigeria, the strategy is to focus on turning more of Nigeria’s resources into value-added products rather than exporting commodities and importing finished goods. As one business leader remarked, “Africa has to produce more of what it consumes, and consume more of what it produces.” Epitomizing the approach, Dangote Group has secured $9 billion in funding for Nigeria’s first privately owned refinery. The group aims to quadruple its market capitalization and triple its headcount by the end of the decade.  While poor infrastructure and pervasive corruption remain major challenges, Pabby was clear about the biggest obstacle to growth—insufficient human capital. That is why the group has created Dangote Academy to train the technicians, engineers, and managers it needs to turn its vision into reality.

Africapitalism” is what Tony O. Elumelu, another successful Nigerian entrepreneur and philanthropist, calls the new economic mantra. Whereas earlier development models stressed, respectively, foreign aid and foreign direct investment, Elumelu believes that the key to Africa’s development is to move “beyond traditional philanthropy, aid, and short-term, rent-seeking investment” and to adopt instead an “African-led, private-sector driven approach to sustainable growth.” According to Elumelu, “public-private collaboration can give Africa the infrastructure and capacity it needs to refine—and profit from—its own natural resources, such as oil, timber, and agricultural products.” The combination of unapologetic profit motivation and genuine commitment to African development is what struck me the most in my conversations with African business leaders, including Yale alumni, as well as in interviews with prospective MBA students. Like Dangote, Elumelu believes that human capital is the key. His foundation not only facilitates local internships for Africans studying abroad in the hope of luring them back to the continent, but has also decided to set up its own business school to train talent where it is most needed.

Admissions Event in Lagos Admissions Event in Lagos Lagos Business School has been turning out such talent for more than two decades and is widely regarded as one of the very best business schools in Africa. The school has bigger goals, however, as its charismatic dean Professor Enase Okonedo explained to me. “We want to be the leading business school in emerging markets,” she said, “not just in and for Africa but worldwide.” The school’s graduates are in high demand and its executive education programs attract managers from both Nigerian and foreign firms.  Meeting a group of LBS MBA students was a powerful reminder that the world is not only flat but also multipolar. While many students expressed interest in student exchange with the US, they were equally interested in connecting with peers in Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia, China, or Turkey. Interestingly, “connecting” to them did not necessarily imply overseas travel. Several of the students had taken a MOOC in the past and many were interested in the kind of Small Network Online Courses or SNOCs that the Global Network has offered to students across member schools.

Students at University of Ghana Business School are already plugged into the Global Network. The school is not only 15 years older than Yale SOM, with 300 full-time MBA students, 300 weekend MBAs, and 300 Executive MBAs, it is also considerably bigger. Of these students, more than 200 attended a presentation I gave about the Master of Advanced Management program at Yale. At $58,000, Yale’s tuition is about ten times higher than tuition at UGBS, a stark reminder that two decades of galloping increases have left U.S. business schools and many of their European counterparts at risk of being cut off from talent pools in some of the world’s most dynamic economies. Fortunately, due to the generosity of supporters such as Kosmos Energy, we can offer very attractive scholarships to West African participants in the MAM, such as Yvonne Paintsil ’14.           

I was incredibly impressed by the prospective students I met in Nigeria and Ghana, both for our MBA program and for the MAM. Hopefully many will join us in New Haven after the summer. Virtually without exception, however, they professed to wanting to return to Africa soon or immediately after their studies. Not only are the local opportunities vast, but they all also felt an urge to contribute to Africa’s development. Yale SOM’s mission to educate leaders for business and society not only resonated with them, it seemed they embodied it.  Hopefully I will meet similarly impressive candidates in Turkey and Israel, where I will visit two more Global Network schools—Koç University Graduate School of Business and the Technion-Israel Institute for Technology.  Stay tuned.

David Bach

About the author

David Bach

Senior Associate Dean for Executive MBA and Global Programs & Senior Lecturer