We had the honour to sit down with one of the key figures behind the unique MBA collaboration between ALU School of Business and ALU School of Wildlife Conservation: Dr Francis Vorhies, Academic Director at ALU School of Wildlife Conservation, discusses the vital nexus of business and conservation – and how ALU is addressing the leadership deficit in the conservation field.
Francis Vorhies has racked up over 30 years of experience at the intersection of business, biodiversity and development. In short, he is the perfect interviewee to give us a look into the world’s first MBA programming for Conservation Leaders!
What drew you to work in conservation?
I moved to South Africa in the ’80s to work on the promotion of an equitable market economy for the post-apartheid era. During my time there, I visited a private wildlife ranch and met a couple who were saving wildlife as a small business. It wasn’t a national park, it wasn’t government-run; it was just a small company making money by saving nature. I never thought about conservation as a business opportunity before, but that was a turning point. Since then, I have been looking for ways to combine business and conservation across the African continent.
Could you tell us more about the ALU’s MBA programming for conservation leaders?
The African Leadership University in Kigali, Rwanda, has established the world’s first MBA experience for rising leaders in the conservation field. The collaboration between ALU’s School of Wildlife Conservation (SoWC) and School of Business (ALUSB) combines ALU’s rigorous, 20-month MBA degree with a specialisation in Conservation Leadership. SoWC’s specialisation includes five modules covering topics like Business & Biodiversity, Conservation Governance & Management, Conservation Markets & Finance and more, which are delivered in the classroom, via distance-learning modules and a field-based module.
The conservation-specific modules are designed to complement ALUSB’s MBA programme and help conservation professionals to apply MBA learning specifically to their field. For example, where the main MBA programme looks at management, we will look at conservation management. When they look at strategy, we’ll look at conservation strategy and policy.
The fifth course, Conservation in Practice, is a field module where the students will spend a week out in the field looking at conservation management. The lectures, the intensives, the assignments, the readings, the videos and the group exercises will be wrapped around these five modules.
What’s the one thing that sets the this conservation-focused programme apart from others?
At the moment, it’s the only game in town. It’s the first real attempt at putting together a high-quality MBA experience that is focused on the African challenges and opportunities for the conservation sector.
It’s a unique thing that we are doing at ALU: we’re looking at conservation as a platform for economic development, for growth, and for job creation. The programme is business-focused.We’re focusing on how the conservation sector can grow, how it can deliver goods and services, and how it can create inclusive employment opportunities.
But, what makes the programme unique is not so much people like me, but the cohort of mid-career students who are coming from different countries and different organisations. Enabling them to work together and develop their business and leadership acumen in the context of conservation challenges is really something special. The most exciting thing for them is having this 20-month space to go on a learning journey and become actual leaders in the conservation sector.
Why was the programme created?
The conservation sector has a real leadership deficit. That doesn’t mean that there are bad people in the sector or that they are uneducated… But the sector is mostly dominated by people who have studied natural sciences. And that is fine, but the conservation sector, like any other sector, is about much more than science. It’s about people, it’s about managing different groups, financial flows, marketing, product lines, value chains, and so on. There’s a real need for more leadership acumen in the conservation sector and ALU’s School of Business is the only school that offers an education that meets that need.
Who is the programme for?
Firstly, the programme is ideal for people who are already active in the conservation sector; people who either work for an NGO, are in public sector conservation management, or people who work in the eco-tourism sector, for example. But the programme is also very useful for people who don’t work in the conservation sector, but in intersecting industries that could threaten or damage the natural environment. Think of industries like mining, oil and gas, infrastructure… Finally, this programme is also a good fit for people who work in conservation-dependent sectors. These are industries that are dependent on nature like fisheries, agriculture, ranching and so on.
Essentially, this programme is designed for people who are interested in the business of conservation.
Why is the intersection of business and conservation so important?
If we don’t make conservation viable as a business, it’s going to be replaced. So conservation needs business, but there is also business to be made in conservation. Yes, we need zoologists, biologists and ecologists. But we also need leaders, we need entrepreneurs, and we need managers. So that’s what we’re trying to provide through this programme.
What are the outcomes that organisations can expect?
When the students do return to their organisations after the programme, we see that they have a much better chance of connecting the dots between the different parts of the organisation. We see that these students are able to play a more strategic and productive role in their organisation, either as a manager or by starting up new businesses in the conservation sector.
What kind of impact do you expect to see through this MBA?
In Africa, the impact would be to make conservation a viable business sector on the continent so that Africa’s wildlife can proven as a positive force for economic growth, increased revenues and job creation.
We had the honour of sitting down with one of our ALUSB MBA guest faculty, Professor of Finance and Dean of Hult International Business School’s Boston’s Campus, Dr. Gonzalo Chavez.
Professor Chavez has taught finance all over the world and we were delighted to host him for his first teaching engagement in Sub Saharan Africa! In this interview, Professor Chavez talks about his experience teaching our ALUSB MBA students and he leaves us with two pieces of advice for rising African leaders.
We’ve compiled some interesting excerpts from Gonzalo’s interview, you can find the full video below:
On teaching ALUSB MBA students for the first time.
“It has been a pleasure. The group is very collaborative, very dynamic, very positive. What I’ll always remember them saying is: “Let’s do this!”. And that is the kind of attitude one needs, not only in a class environment. That is the kind of attitude one needs as the next business leaders“.
Advice for rising African leaders.
For the leaders that want to take on the challenge of realising Africa’s potential, Dr. Gonzalo Chavez has two pieces of advice:
- “Continue to challenge yourself to adapt current knowledge to the African reality. As a leader, you very frequently have to make decisions that have a financial impact, but you cannot be the expert in every single field. Force yourself to ask about the practical implications. Don’t just look at it from a metrics perspective, but ask: “what does this metric mean?” Go back and just remove yourself until you get to a point where it all makes sense.”
- The second piece of advice Dr. Chavez has for this cohort of African Leaders is to be a promoter of education.” The reason why they are leaders at this point is because they are being trained and they have the education. Their responsibility is also to make sure that that continues. Because the level of education in this continent’s population is going to be a deciding factor in what happens in the next 10 to 15 years.”
This leads us nicely to Gonzalo’s closing question:
“What are you doing to make sure there are others like you?”
Watch Dr. Chavez’s full interview below!
From leading projects at the Industrial Development Corporation in Zambia to kick-starting independent enterprises and embarking on an MBA journey at ALUSB, Mulumba Lwatula ’19 is a man with many responsibilities. There are both risks and opportunities attached to juggling different duties, but Mulumba has found a way to make it work. We sat down with him to talk about the different roles that he occupies on a daily basis:
At the top of the list is his role as a senior analyst in business development at the Industrial Development Corporation in Zambia, a position that marked the departure from Mulumba’s previous career as an ICT professional. This career switch was motivated by his passion for business: “I have always been interested in business, even when I was in the tech field. Building businesses and coming up with solutions for people’s needs has always been a passion of mine.” So when the opportunity to get into business development at IDC came up, Mulumba took the challenge head-on.
A couple of years into his second career path, Mulumba is now travelling across Zambia, following up on existing projects and kick-starting new ones. His busy schedule allows little time for uniformity; one week he’ll be in Lusaka establishing the national airline, and the next he’ll be in the northern part of the country overlooking the presidential launch of the ZamPalm plantation.
“Every week is different. We run several projects across several sectors, so a lot of what I do includes checking up on the progress of some of these projects. But essentially, it all revolves around the IDC mandate: bringing about industrialisation in Zambia, creating jobs and turning around state-owned enterprises.”
In addition to his role at IDC, Mulumba is also an entrepreneur at heart. His passion for problem-solving led him to start several businesses of his own. This is something that is very much supported at ALU School of Business. Through courses like Entrepreneurship and Innovation, students learn about the instrumental role of entrepreneurial ventures on the continent and are encouraged to put that knowledge into practice. The E&I course ends with a Lions Den event, where the ALUSB students go through the real-life experience of defending their idea to a critical jury of potential investors.
The winner of the ALUSB Lions Den in 2018 was none other than Mulumba himself! He successfully managed to sway the jury with ‘Soko’, a digital platform with the goal of increasing financial inclusion in Zambia. Winning this competition incentivised him to go forward with the actualisation of his idea. “What started out as my entrepreneurship and innovation project has become my capstone project and will become my future business. Winning this competition has galvanised me to push even harder to make this idea a reality.“
ALUSB MBA student
“The work that I do today and the work that I plan on doing in the future will be expanding more and more across Africa.”
To top it all off, Mulumba is also a member of the Class of 2019 at ALUSB. “My decision to get an MBA was obviously related to the job that I am doing today. I felt like I needed to develop myself further, where business knowledge was concerned. I wanted to make sure that I was exposed to tools that would allow me to perform at my very best.”
Having lived and worked in almost every corner on the continent, Mulumba is a pan-African in the true sense of the word. So when he decided to pursue his MBA, he looked for a business school that shared his African-centred vision.
“My outlook has always been pan-African. The work that I do today and the work that I plan on doing in the future will be expanding more and more across Africa. So ALU School of Business spoke to everything I aspired to be.”
Although this MBA journey at ALUSB has been very gratifying for Mulumba, combining all these responsibilities is not always an easy task. Thankfully, he has the essential tools to maintain his balance: personal drive, support from his ALUSB classmates, and the ultimate motivators; his sons. “My boys are a great source of balance for me. Everything I do, I do to leave a legacy they will be proud of.”
Every year, the ALU School of Business (ALUSB) strives to find ambitious professionals for our MBA programme. And every year we are blown away by the amount of talent on the African continent. With the Chairman’s Scholarship for Excellence in Business, ALUSB seeks to honour this greatness by presenting a full-tuition award to rising business leaders with a track record of leadership at the workplace and in their communities. Our March 2019 cohort recipient has it all: leadership potential, a passion for uplifting her community and an ambitious vision for the future. ALUSB is proud to present our new Chairman’s Scholar: Mahder Zewdie Gebretsadik!
Mahder is the current Marketing Manager at EthioChicken, a poultry company that works with rural farmers to reduce malnutrition and poverty in Ethiopia. Leading the Marketing and the Customer Insights team, she works on developing the brand visibility, market activation and measuring satisfaction levels and the impact of the business on the livelihood of Ethiopian rural smallholder farmers. Mahder is now helping to establish similar teams in Rwanda, as EhtioChicken expands into East-Africa.
Although Mahder is very successful at what she does, there was a time where she didn’t even know what marketing was. Like many of us, Mahder was only aware of a limited list of career options growing up: become an engineer or become a doctor. But thanks to her parents, who instilled her with a winning mentality, she realised where her true strengths lay. So after a short stint as an engineering student, Mahder set out to get her bachelor’s degree in Marketing Management.
“My purpose in life is providing enough. When it comes to food, I want people to have enough, especially kids. And in terms of education, I want people to have enough knowledge to contribute to their society.”
A decade into her professional journey, Mahder has used technology and data-centric knowledge to solve business as well as social problems. This passion for social change is part of a bigger sense of purpose: “I grew up in Ethiopia, and I didn’t come from a rich family. We never had enough growing up. So my purpose in life is providing enough. When it comes to food, I want people to have enough, especially kids. And in terms of education, I want people to have enough knowledge to contribute to their society.”
Mahder has achieved a great amount in her professional life and has had a positive impact on countless Ethiopian livelihoods through Ethiochicken. But despite her previous achievements, Mahder still has many aspirations for the future: “If you look at the numbers in Africa; it doesn’t always look good for women. When it comes to hunger, women are more hungry. When it comes to literacy, women are more illiterate. We’re missing women, and if we’re missing women, we’re missing the next generation of leaders in Africa. So in the future, my projects are going to be particularly impactful for young people and women.”
Mahder Zewdie will join the ALUSB MBA Class of 2020 this March.
Obonye Malope ’20 is the Director of Marketing at the First National Bank of Botswana and embarked on her ALUSB journey this past July. Preparatory to starting the MBA programme she set several goals, but most of all, Obonye wanted to develop herself further as an African leader. We sat down with Obonye to talk about her objectives for pursuing an MBA and why the pan-African programme at ALUSB resonated so much with her.
Before applying to ALUSB, Obonye had been looking for an MBA programme for quite some time; 10 years to be exact. “I could never find one that went beyond just “ticking off a box”. I never really found a programme that interested me; I would look at the syllabus, the course content and it wouldn’t really grab my attention.”
But when she learned about the pan-African programme at ALUSB, she finally felt like she found an MBA that aligned with her vision. These are the three things Obonye wanted to get out of the MBA programme at ALUSB:
ALUSB is all about increasing the business acumen in Africa and encouraging Africans to come up with homegrown solutions for problems on the continent. We ensure this by offering an education that is tailored to the African context through case studies on African businesses, African research and the application of that theory to solve existing problems.
This vision of self-sufficiency greatly resonated with Obonye, “I think we always associate leadership with countries outside of Africa. When people want to study leadership, management or business, they often assume that they have to go to the US or Europe. But no, we need to invest in ourselves! We don’t always have to look for foreign investment.”
2 A DIFFERENT PERCEPTION
Secondly, Obonye turned to the ALUSB MBA programme to get an education that went beyond surface-level perceptions of Africa. “A lot of our history portrays warfare, disease and the more negative side. But, there is also a very beautiful side to Africa; the celebrations, the different cultures, our perseverance… But that side rarely gets shown.”
“I really wanted to get exposed to the richness of the many cultures that make up Africa. I wanted to learn more about Africa from Africans and people who are in that environment. And the programme gives me exactly that. There are about 20 African countries represented in my year alone. “
“Building a network across Africa was important to me because I wanted to get to the point where I could work anywhere on the African continent.”
3 AN AFRICAN-WIDE NETWORK
The third goal Obonye had when starting the MBA programme at ALUSB, was to expand her network. “Building a network across Africa was important to me because I wanted to get to the point where I could work anywhere on the African continent. The MBA programme is essentially about networking and growing these strong bonds so that you can reach across to them when you need them. For example; If I want to expand my company to Tanzania, I can just reach out to a classmate and say: “hey, help me understand the local landscape.”
But Obonye didn’t only gain an African-wide network at ALUSB, she also gained a family. “I have been touched and encouraged by the family that is the entire class of 2020. These people are now family, they’re not just a cohort or just classmates. The level of transparency and generosity is amazing. That is something that is going to last beyond the entire MBA programme.”