Zahn De Bruyn, Programme Manager at USB-ED and Jon Duncan, Head of Responsible Investment at Old Mutual Investment Group, at the Africa Directors Programme launch.
A new training programme for aspiring and incumbent directors of companies across the African continent aims to provide the impetus for responsible board leadership in a complex world. The Africa Directors Programme, which began in August and runs until November, is a collaboration between USB Executive Development (USB-ED), the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) and the globally recognised INSEAD Corporate Governance Initiative, and is sponsored by the Old Mutual Investment Group.
South Africa a global leader in corporate governance
According to USB-ED’s Prof Arnold Smit, South Africa is regarded as a global leader in corporate governance as a result of the work of the Institute of Directors in Southern Africa (IoDSA) and the efforts of the King Commission on Corporate Governance. These contributions do not stand in isolation, but have found their way into boardrooms and have played a significant role in building the fibre of institutional life in South Africa. Their work has also contributed to the country’s financial system and the banking sector’s relative stability and resilience during the difficult post-recession years. As a result, there is a strong emphasis on the need for effective and purposeful governance in organisations across all sectors and industries today.
The groundwork for the Africa Directors Programme began in 2013, when Smit visited the INSEAD Corporate Governance Initiative in Fontainebleau to explore the possibility of collaborating on a joint initiative that would not just focus on South Africa, but on Africa as a whole. INSEAD, ranked as one of the top 10 business schools in the Financial Times Executive Education 2015 ranking, now shares directorship of the programme with USB-ED. A faculty member of INSEAD, Prof Marc le Menestrel, is a core part of the team. With South Africa’s leading role in the current discussion on corporate governance, the programme represents an avenue for INSEAD, which is looking for a new paradigm to approach the role and purpose of business where boards have an important part to play.
Le Menestrel believes that businesses will have to pay greater attention to environmental sustainability, social justice, ethics and human values if they want to exist in the future. He explains that the INSEAD Corporate Governance Initiative is undertaking cutting-edge research and teaching to answer the needs of boards and directors. “This,” he says, “brings to the programme a truly global intellectual perspective, an ambition for leading-edge ideas, tools and inspiring examples, and an enthusiasm for exploring and developing innovative approaches to governance like South Africa is striving for.”
Meeting the governance needs of the continent
The Africa Directors Programme has also strengthened the partnership between USB-ED and the Centre for Corporate Governance in Africa at USB – an institution which has produced a significant body of knowledge in the corporate governance space. According to the Centre’s director Daniel Malan, corporate governance is a key requirement for equitable and sustainable development on the continent and there is a demand for learning institutions to become instrumental in building governance capacity.
Malan believes that the Africa Directors Programme will make an important contribution to the development of effective directors who will live up to this challenge. He elucidates as follows: “The Centre’s mission is to develop both the compliance and the performance aspects of directors' attitudes, knowledge and skills, as well as the link between corporate governance, business ethics and total organisational performance. Together with our partners, we will support the programme, specifically with regard to the production of relevant and accessible research.”
Eager to be the first to put a group of existing and aspiring directors from its own ranks on the programme, Old Mutual Investment Group came on board as a corporate partner. This initiative is being led by Jon Duncan, head of Responsible Investment. According to Duncan, the Group views governance as being super critical to any long-term sustainable economy. He elaborates: “We want to be a part of building capacity in broader markets. This programme will be presented to twenty-two of our managers and investment professionals who sit on boards of companies.”
Old Mutual Investment Group’s commitment to good governance, director development, sustainable finance, responsible investment and green economic growth reflects values that USB-ED subscribes to. According to Smit it is an exceptional privilege for USB-ED to share the journey “with a corporate partner that has this level of gravitas”. By supporting the Africa Directors Programme, Old Mutual hopes significantly to enhance the capacity for ethical and effective corporate governance and board leadership, not just for its own executive team, but for directorship development across the broader African continent. Duncan says the process-based learning approach is very powerful and has real impact. He is convinced that the programme “will build capacity and create leaders that South Africa and the rest of the continent so desperately needs”.
The programme has three components that will equip participants to exercise the duties of a director. Although the first two rounds of the programme are being presented in South Africa, it is designed to be a learning and networking space for directors from all over the continent and will be presented in other African countries in future. Participants striving for the Chartered Director SA designation may present proof of the successful completion of this programme as part of their portfolio of evidence.
According to Le Menestrel, the programme will develop the skills of directors to connect their own leadership values with a realistic account of the business context, enabling them to be active and successful contributors to transformation. Through this programme, he says: “South Africa may dare to continue to inspire the world in its search for a society that combines economic efficiency, social justice and environmental sustainability.”