Africa is the new frontier for business; in fact, in this decade, seven of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies will be in Africa if current projections are accurate. Multinationals including SAP, PepsiCo and Unilever are either actively investing or are mulling increased focus on the region. From natural resources to agricultural products to the bustling hubs of technological innovation in Africa’s cities, this continent of one billion people spread across 54 states is on the move.
But the desire and demand for educational opportunities has far outpaced the opportunities actually available in Africa. To that end, this week SAP launched a “Skills for Africa” program tasked with developing information technology skills to boost access to education and support for entrepreneurs. SAP will work with dozens of partners to offer as many as 2,500 students skills training in the next five years. A pilot program in Kenya with 100 students started last fall.
TriplePundit had the opportunity to catch up with Antonia Ashton, Head of Integrated Communications for SAP Africa. I wanted to learn about some of the challenges companies face in emerging markets such as Africa–so I shot her some questions, which she answered from her Cape Town, South Africa office.
TriplePundit: Explain some of the challenges SAP has faced related to building skills capacity in the region.
Antonia Ashton: There are many challenges with dealing in Africa including multiple languages, vast geographic distances, diverse culture and different legislations. The lack of infrastructure and bandwidth within the African region has caused many obstacles in building skills capacity, hence the need for something different: a new view on learning.
3p: How were these first 100 students selected? What kind of process will they go through before they enter the skills program? And how will the curriculum be delivered?
AA: The students are selected in conjunction with SAP, the Kenya ICT Board and the Multimedia University of Kenya (MMU). Modules of study will be focused on best business practices and SAP skills in the areas of financial and managerial accounting, sales and distribution, procurement, human capital management, database and technology, system administration and business reporting.
The delivery of the initiative will be based on blended learning which will include self-study based on the concept of the SAP student kits. It enables individual studying, the ability to study course content at their own pace in their own time frame, without the need for Internet bandwidth.
3p: Tell us more about the partners with whom you’re working? How did the relationship between you and SAP develop?
AA: The partners are all part of a network of SAP Education, University Alliance and implementation partners, as such they have the necessary skills needed to assist, mentor and train these students. The network of education partners have the facilities to deliver classroom training, as they currently deliver courses by means of a schedule on behalf of SAP. They are an extension of the SAP Education delivery arm.
3p: How do you expect this education project to factor in SAP’s overall strategy for the region?
AA: Whilst significant revenue continues to be derived from South Africa, the expansion plans for the African region will ensure that a greater proportion of revenue will be forthcoming from the rest of Africa. With existing branches in Nairobi, Lagos and Abuja and another to be opened in Angola later this year, SAP will have an increasing footprint into Africa. This will support partners and customers to ensure the success of the program, as well as secure an increasing number of SAP projects to utilize the newly trained students, thus ensuring they have access to valuable project experience. There are many faceted logistical issues that could be raised. This program basically eliminates the issues faced by delivering training via an innovative method and increasing skills, certifications and the SAP footprint in the region.
3p: What are you learning so far from the pilot education program in Kenya? And what did you start small?
AA: The Kenya Pilot Project has kicked off and the students have been selected, and have undergone induction and they are being prepared to undertake the formal training. The lessons learned are many, but two stand out. First, any initiative must take into account the skills agenda in the context of current market conditions. Next, the student selection criteria must take into account the unequal distribution of wealth and the regional dynamics across the country. In the end, our decision to take a piecemeal approach is vindicated as the learning environment is a dynamic one.
Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is the editor of GreenGoPost.com and frequently writes about business sustainability strategy. Leon also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable Brands, Inhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).
[Opening image credit: Leon Kaye]