Africa focus: Cambridge MBA students bring African development to top of the agenda
In recent years, Africa’s growth story has created many exciting possibilities for business and for individuals seeking to contribute and lead positive change.
As more African professionals seek postgraduate business education to upskill and contribute, Cambridge Judge Business School (CJBS) has embraced the growing interest in the region with the Cambridge Africa Business Network (CABN). CABN launched in 2012 and is going from strength to strength as a driver for discussion, ideas, and collaboration – particularly through the flagship annual CABN conference.
CABN is an alumni and student-led organisation within Cambridge Judge Business School with a mission to stimulate dialogue about business, investment, and entrepreneurship in Africa, including both practitioner and research perspectives.
The leaders of CABN, coming from student cohorts across the years, have been clear that increasing awareness and building networks between Cambridge and the broader Africa-focused business community will result in increased development and economic growth on the continent.
Thabo Lennieye, Kenyan Cambridge MBA alumna, had been aware of CABN for a while, “CABN was always something I wanted to get involved, and it’s one of the reasons that I actually chose Cambridge over some other schools for my MBA. The year in Cambridge was an incredibly rewarding experience, especially leading the conference agenda, because I’ve connected with people outside of my network with an interest in Africa”.
Fellow Cambridge MBA alumnus, Eklou Damien, found CABN a vital community for building support, “One person cannot make change. CABN is a way to gather all Africans, and all friends of Africa, to collaborate. The Cambridge experience is a wonderful opportunity to network, which is vital because I believe change comes with numbers.”
A broad interest from around the world
Participants in CABN, and the associated Africa Special Interest Group – another student-led initiative the Cambridge programme fosters – are not just from the African content.
“I was amazed when the first time we had a meeting, I saw many people from different countries. I wasn’t expecting that,” says Steeve Tchatchuing, alumnus from the 2018 MBA class. “This was a fantastic opportunity to come together and engage with an international audience from many different industries – we don’t get that in our normal daily working lives.”
The CABN conference also was a chance to work within the wider University of Cambridge – the committee worked with the African Society of the University. “We were working together to increase African representation in Cambridge – as this is vital for engagement with external stakeholders,” says Tchatchuing.
The conference is one of the largest annual conferences held at Cambridge Judge Business School and attracts business and political leaders, students and professionals with an interest in business in Africa as well as other emerging markets.
The Network has leveraged the unique position of Cambridge as Europe’s start-up capital to connect with exciting Africa-focused start-ups and discuss the emerging trends in this sector. In 2017, The theme of the CABN conference was ‘Making an Impact’. Working with africafunders.com, CABN brought together start-ups from within the African continent to compete for a prize of $10,000 in seed funding.
“We wanted to make a real impact,” says Cambridge Africa Business Network Chair that year, Sunga Lungu. “We wanted to bring influential people from Africa to Cambridge. It was wonderful to enable new connections to be made.”
Leadership and collaborative skills
As well as driving discussion and progress, Cambridge MBA students and alumni participants in CABN are keen to use their business education to enhance their own contributions to African growth.
“I have a very deep, profound passion for African development,” says Lesego Letlape, now consultant at Boston Consulting Group in Johannesburg and MBA student in 2018-19, and President of CABN during that time. “In my journey to contribute more towards Africa, I decided to do an MBA. I came to Cambridge, and at once I just felt a connection to it.”
“We asked ourselves,” says Damien, “How can we use the business education we’re getting here to do something on the continent?”
Involvement in the Network and conference specifically, not only advances important discussions on Africa, but also offers opportunity for individual students to add to their skill set, particularly in relationship building and leadership.
For Rezvan Ahmed, born and raised in Kenya, a large motivation for the MBA was to build his leadership skills. Organising the conference gave him an opportunity to challenge himself. “I was truly outside my comfort zone, learning from others all the time.”
For Lennieye, the conference and CABN work had the effect of “knitting my MBA together”, making contacts that she can take forward in her career, shaping how she can engage in African challenges and opportunities.
To make international business education accessible to more Africans, Cambridge Judge offers financial aid to candidates through the Wider Cambridge MBA Scholarship for Regional Diversity, which offers £30,000 toward MBA fees to selected African nationals (among others). Other scholarships are open to Africans, such as those focusing on sector background and the women’s Forté Foundation Fellowship Scholarship. There is a huge opportunity to share knowledge and widen the discussion to support growth on the African continent – Cambridge Judge students are rising to the challenge with energy and commitment, as important initiatives like CABN continues to thrive.