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The changing face of Nigerian MBA students

By Kieran Mervyn

The Master of Business Administration (MBA) is globally recognised as a scholastic degree bolstered by workplace experience, and is known for attracting executive-level managers and professionals (or those who aspire to be).

Now, a new breed of entrepreneurial MBA student is changing the programme profile traditionally associated with C-suite students. This raises a number of queries about what has prompted this change and why this trend is emerging.

Globalisation fuels entrepreneurial spirit
The global marketplace is evolving due to a number of forces, including global uncertainties, competitiveness, austerity measures, the redesign of public-service delivery, the impact of network infrastructures, and mobile and wireless computing – all of which lead to enhanced knowledge production and growth of a networked society. Simultaneously, Nigeria is emerging as a robust location of economic growth and is developing into an economic powerhouse. With a population of approximately 170 million and rising, analysts predict its economy is expected to grow at least 6% per year between 2014 and 2017.

Nigeria recognises the importance of entrepreneurs in wealth creation; their once-raw talent, now nurtured, can produce taxes that support public services and their delivery. While greater access to financial support, education and skills are supporting national economic development, The Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) says that continuing challenges (including a weak transport and communications infrastructure, expensive and unpredictable power grids and security-based issues) are restricting services in areas that are essential to business.

Recently, Nigeria became Africa’s largest economy based on GDP estimates, yet the total unemployment rate hovers around 25% and urban unemployment at approximately 30%. As Nigerians are often viewed as hard-working with a strong entrepreneurial spirit, those who understand technological advancements and their implications for personal and business growth and development have a greater opportunity to become self-employed entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurs are increasingly capitalising on the knowledge created in the country and developing valuable products and services that enable Nigeria to compete in the global marketplace. Liberalisation of Nigeria’s emerging economy is being witnessed through swift privatisation of public services; however, the economy remains in flux and clearly requires a new type of management practice. This requires an MBA programme that isn’t just geared toward the executive-level professional but that also addresses the needs of the growing number of entrepreneurs entering the global marketplace every day. MBA programmes delivered through online channels fit neatly with the needs of entrepreneurs by enabling them to get a degree without putting their businesses on hold.

Developing innovative human resources
Effective leadership skills are critical for Nigerian businesses to remain competitive and sustainable in the global economy.
Consequently, learning and leading in this dynamic era and managing an increasingly diverse and knowledge-based workforce require a new type of leader. There is a commercial and societal need to develop technically competent, authentic and innovative leaders with the skills and abilities required to drive growth and development.

Business schools, a popular destination for professionals seeking board-level positions, are witnessing an increasing number of entrepreneurs entering MBA programmes.

The effects of globalisation, which have allowed sole practitioners and small shops to compete with global companies, and the fact that consumers (if B2C) and companies (if B2B) are now smarter and more knowledgeable about the global marketplace, require business owners to sharpen their business acumen and remain relevant or risk losing it all.

Many entrepreneurs believe they are more likely to succeed if they have a deeper understanding of the fundamentals taught in an MBA programme than if they do not have this knowledge. For others, it is simply an opportunity to help them take their idea or company to the next level, and that requires more than what has brought them to this point in their careers.
The ability to become an entrepreneur is an increasingly sought-after ideal. Students seek to determine how to get an idea off the ground to develop start-ups or spin-offs, or they simply wish to understand the entrepreneurial process from different perspectives. There is also a growing desire to enhance innovation skill sets, and MBA students increasingly want to understand the connection between leadership development and the innovation–commercialisation relationship. Providing guidance from beginning to end, MBA programmes help students realise their ambitions and understand that there are multiple ways in which people can be innovative, without having to acquire licences or patents or having to work for another company.

The new wave of MBA programmes
Today’s entrepreneurs have vision, passion, agility and robustness, and they tend to operate in an always-open, interconnected and fast-moving world. While e-commerce and social media have expanded entrepreneurial opportunity, they also have created a challenge for those who seek to gain the tools and techniques to lead in complex, changing and multicultural organisations and to engage in groundbreaking and often technologically driven developments. Traditionally, business leaders would have to hit the pause button on their ventures to attend a local MBA programme, but the advent of online education has helped close the gap, allowing entrepreneurs to continue business as usual while expanding their knowledge and skills to gain a competitive advantage.
An online MBA programme provides not only the flexibility entrepreneurs need, but also the opportunity to develop important long-term social and business networks and to learn from peers and faculty from around the world.

In the online classroom, students consider the values, attitudes and behaviours of their international colleagues, explore ways to develop creative thinking around them and learn to create an innovative culture throughout their organisations. MBA programmes provide students with strategic insights and options for promoting, commercialising or utilising their research, ideas, products or services, and thus broaden their capacity for personal goal achievement. As students increasingly strive to become more innovative and outwardly focused, this sharing of global best practices provides novel opportunities through a blend of formal and informal learning methods, meshed with practical research experience and reflection.

Future leaders must learn how to innovate, and entrepreneurs have the motivation to challenge the status quo. MBA programmes can help foster personal and professional improvement in both areas and are a positive investment for entrepreneurial success.

*Mervyn teaches courses in leadership in the online MBA programme at the University of Roehampton, London and is co-director of AM2 Partners Ltd.


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