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It must never stop

Africa has an insatiable hunger for knowledge and requires the necessary stimulus to develop responsible leaders and leadership.  "As in the rest of the world, the landscape of the community is strongly formed and refined by the business environment.  That's the position of the community leaders in Africa today - and they need the skills to be able to handle that landscape better," says Frik Landman, CEO of USB Executive Development (USB-ED), the executive development and training company of the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB).  The USB-ED, which celebrates its 10th birthday this year, was recently the one business school in Africa to be classified in a combined category of the world's top 50 business schools in the Financial Times Executive Education 2011 World Ranking.  

Landman says there's now an emerging younger guard in Africa tired of the old way of doing business:  making a profit at any cost.  It's a group not only concerned about the community environment but also about nature.  They're also hungry for a different kind of knowledge formerly regarded as the alpha and omega.

"It's sometimes assumed Africa doesn't have the capacity to provide this kind of knowledge.  However, four of the 65 business schools placed on its list by the Financial Times were from Africa.  If you bear in mind there are around 7 000 business schools worldwide, that's a confirmation of Africa's ability."

Landman says the USB-ED is determined to get further business schools in Africa included in the list by developing contacts and partnerships with the rest of Africa. "These are the platforms that permit leaders in Africa to meet, to learn from one another and to develop further to the benefit of their own countries and the African continent." Landman says.

Countries in Africa where the USB-ED has an established footprint are Namibia, Botswana, Saudi Arabia and Tanzania, with Kenya and Zimbabwe the next two focal points.

Landman says over the past few years the USB-ED has taken a close look at the balance between the content of programmes and the process of how information is carried over to programme participants.  "Sometimes the focus falls on the course content - and that's usually driven by specific and well-known 'superstar' experts.  The focus is then on the specific expert.  And there's also competition with other experts to fill that particular training space."

That often resulted in the process of conveying information being neglected in the midst of all that competition.  

"But we live in the information age," says Landman.  "For example, information is available everywhere on the Internet.  Content only offers you access to the 'stadium', it's not the 'game'.  The game is the process of converting information into action."

The shift in the USB-ED's focus to obtain a balance between content and process began yielding results especially over the past year.  Though content remains important it's not where the focus should fall.  "The important thing is the learning process and how the information is shared and facilitated so it ultimately cultivates leadership.  It helps if knowledge makes sense in practice," Landman says. 

When a programme is designed it's essential to consider the person who receives the information and ultimately has to process it.  The USB-ED's view is that the most important "participant" in any programme is the natural environment, followed by the community, then the organisation and, fourth, the individual.

Landman says though the individual sits in the classroom, that person represents the company, the community and the natural environment in which he's present.  It's not only the individual being developed: it also filters through to the other facets of the environment.  

However, the programmes offered by USB-ED must be distinguished from the normal MBA.  Landman says the MBA is the kind of qualification relevant at a certain stage of someone's career.  And it's completed in a few years.

If a person has made some progress in a corporate career, an MBA - which covers a generic spectrum of subject areas - doesn't always make sense. However, management development isn't bound to time; it doesn't have a "sell-by" date.  It can precede an MBA, take the place of an MBA for people who aren't all that academically inclined, line up next to an MBA or even come after an MBA.

"Though the two kinds of training are very close together and complementary, they serve different purposes," Landman says.  "You can't say one is better than the other; it depends on the participant's circumstances and choices."  Management development is essentially a part of professional development - in fact, it should never stop.​

Source: Finweek 25 August 2011, page 55

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