Exploring the MBA for Conservation Leaders with Francis Vorhies

Exploring the MBA for Conservation Leaders with Francis Vorhies

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.

Dr. Gonzalo Chavez: what are you doing to make sure there are others like you?

Dr. Gonzalo Chavez: what are you doing to make sure there are others like you?

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!

Introducing our new Chairman’s Scholar: Mahder Zewdie Gebretsadik!

Introducing our new Chairman’s Scholar: Mahder Zewdie Gebretsadik!

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.

3 goals Obonye Malope ’20 set for the ALUSB MBA

3 goals Obonye Malope ’20 set for the ALUSB MBA

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:

1 SELF-SUFFICIENCY  

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.”

 

Motlatsi Mkalala ’19 on taking bold leadership decisions

Motlatsi Mkalala ’19 on taking bold leadership decisions

Motlatsi Mkalala ’19 is a South African, an Area Manager at Standard Bank, and a rule breaker. We had the pleasure of sitting down with this maverick to discuss his decision to pursue an MBA at ALUSB and his thoughts on taking non-conforming leadership decisions.
“I’m a person who does not conform; I don’t follow rules, I recreate them.”
Here are some interesting excerpts from Motlatsi’s interview, you can find the full video below:
WHY ALUSB?
Although Motlatsi was thinking about applying to a business school for a long time, he had become a bit anti-MBA over time: “I thought everybody was getting an MBA and that it was losing its value.”
But the Pan-African programme at ALUSB made him reconsider: “When I heard about ALUSB, I got excited because it was a Pan-African MBA and the first of its kind. I thought the MBA would give me a greater understanding of the issues and challenges the continent has and a context of where I would want to go next.”
ON LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT
Leadership is at the heart of ALUSB’s vision and is a constant presence throughout the MBA programme. We adhere to a unique V^3 model, which uses a mixture of Virtue, Value and Vision, to develop well-rounded leaders. Not only do we craft their leadership through top-quality content and coaching, but the students also learn to lead through on-the-job practices and experimental activities.
When asked about the leadership development programme at ALUSB, there’s one thing that immediately comes to Motlatsi’s mind: “We learned how to be bold and take bold decisions. And you start to reflect and think: do I take bold decisions in how I run the business? Or am I always comfortable because I’m scared to be the one that stands out? That has challenged how I influence the team or my boss to take a different stance.”
Watch Motlatsi’s full interview below:

4 work-life balance tips from Yves Iradukunda ’19

4 work-life balance tips from Yves Iradukunda ’19

Three years ago, Yves Iradukunda ’19 started at MASS Design Group in Kigali, Rwanda as the East-African operations manager. Now, he’s the senior director of operations and mainly works on bringing in new talent, kickstarting new projects and managing relationships with MASS’s different partners.

With responsibilities that are constantly evolving and expanding, Yves still managed to complete his MBA journey at ALUSB without jeopardising his responsibilities at work.

We talked to Yves about his time at ALUSB and the 4 elements that determined his academic and professional success throughout the MBA programme.

1. Knowing your “why”

Whether you’re a budding entrepreneur or an established leader, identifying the meaning behind your decisions is essential for a purpose-driven and significant journey.

Yves’ reasoning for pursuing an MBA was twofold. Not only did he want to take advantage of the general management training that a Business School provides, but he specifically wanted to expand his knowledge on entrepreneurship and leadership.

“Ideally an MBA was going to allow me to understand my previous experiences through different lenses. I really wanted to know what it meant to inspire; not just the people that I work with, but also the broader society, through the work that we do.”

Knowing his “why” and identifying his goals kept Yves focused and intentional during the ALUSB programme.

2. Choosing the right fit

Even though it is an essential building block, knowing your “why” is not the only thing that will keep you motivated. It is equally important to find an institution that suits you academically and personally. Yves found his match in the Pan-African centred programme at ALUSB.

“There are so many untapped opportunities on the continent and ALUSB’s focus on the African context made the school really attractive and unique. I am now able to tap into a vast network of professionals that are operating in different markets and expand my understanding beyond my own experience. If you’re really interested in increasing your knowledge and expertise on the continent, this MBA is the right programme for you.”

3. Being intentional

In the course of the last 15 months, Yves’ responsibilities at MASS Design Group have both changed and increased in terms of expectations. But despite the added pressure, Yves found a way to stay on top of his schoolwork.  

“You have to be very intentional. There have been many weeks where it was a struggle to dedicate the needed time to my course material, but that means that the weekends are for catching up. So if the week has been hectic, be intentional in the weekend and really make time to study.”

4. Having a strong support system.

Having a support system is imperative when embarking on any journey, especially a challenging one like this. Yves was lucky to have many morale boosters around him.

“My wife and newly born daughter are really the main sources for my motivation; it’s rewarding knowing that they have my back. That aspect of family support is very important.”

Yves colleagues at MASS Design Group were also a source of motivation during his MBA journey: “Seeing the impact of the work that we do, is very inspiring. My colleagues are dedicated, passionate and never compromise on quality. A work environment like that is encouraging and motivates me to contribute to them as they contribute to me.”

Finally, Yves states that his MBA journey would have been impossible without his classmates.  “Even though the ALUSB MBA is a remote programme, we remained connected throughout the year, not just at the intensives. We WhatsApp on a daily basis, call each other, offer support in difficult times and celebrate the exciting ones. Without those people, what you’re learning loses meaning.”

And even though Yves graduation from ALUSB is quickly approaching, he’s not planning to stop learning anytime soon.

“I think learning itself is a lifelong journey. The MBA programme opened my eyes and kickstarted a lifelong learning journey. It helped me realise how much more opportunities are across the continent.  So the upcoming graduation is not a final destination, it’s the start of a new journey of learning and collaborating with other people.”