Ongoing Research

1) How to do business in sub-Saharan Africa

By Alejandro Lago (IESE, Barcelona) and Giovanni Maria Mazzacani (IESE, Barcelona), February, 2015

Motivation for the research

At the turn of the century, a prominent World Bank study raised a renewed dilemma: Can Africa claim the 21st century? Given that the first 40 post-independence years of many African states had seen little in the form of meaningful development, posing such a question was certainly relevant. The debate has been intense since, between supporters of the “Africa rising” paradigm – to name a few, Vijay Mahajan, and his book Africa Rising, Charles Robertson’s The Fastest Billion: The Story Behind Africa’s Economic Revolution, or Steve Radelet’s Emerging Africa: How 17 Countries Are Leading the Way – and skeptical, for instance Oxford economics professor Paul Collier with The Bottom Billion book.

We agree that Africa potential has to be careful considered since African economies are still very small today. But the term “revolution” is quite correct to describe how, in just a decade, the lists of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies have come to be consistently dominated by Africa, with the permission of China. Furthermore, beyond macroeconomic numbers, the reality at the ground level shows that, although localized in some key industries, countries and metropolitan areas, there has been a substantial emergence of business opportunities beyond natural resources.

With such improved prospects, many companies from the developed world are setting their sights on Africa as a new frontier for business. However, as with other emerging economies, African ones are tricky to navigate for the uninitiated business leaders.

Africa is for entrepreneurs and companies that recognize that behind the obstacles that can discourage others, there are opportunities for those who can persevere.

In order to better understand the key business dimensions that companies may need to consider when developing business in an African context we are carrying out:

  • Exploratory interviews with western EXPATS (entrepreneurs and executives) that are currently based in Africa or were based in Africa.
  • Exploratory interviews with LOCALS (entrepreneurs and executives) coming from the most promising sub-Saharan African economies.

The objective of the research will be to develop an actual roadmap to enter the sub-Saharan African market clearly outlining the most important aspects a western company has to consider.

You can find some preliminary material here


2) Africa to Africa (A2A): Internationalization experiences of African companies within the continent

By Africa Ariño (IESE, Barcelona), June, 2014

Motivation for the research

Past development models have proved not to work for Africa. This is the time for Africa’s development to come from within Africa. African companies that become international within the continent will play an important role. Although the number of such companies is still small, learning from their internationalization experiences will prove useful for other companies who may consider taking that step. During my sabbatical stay at Lagos Business School (January-March, 2014) and at Strathmore Business School (April-July, 2014), I’m working on the Africa to Africa (A2A) project. My focus is on Sub-Saharan Africa, with a possible extension to Southern Africa — but not to Northern Africa. I’m carrying out exploratory interviews with international African companies. The purpose of these interviews is to identify critical aspects of the internationalization process of such companies, to then articulate a full-fledged research program around the theme. In addition, I’m carrying out background interviews that allow me to gain a better understanding of the economic and business environment in various African countries. I’m working with an international team that integrates researchers based in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and Spain.

You can find some preliminary material here


3) What Kind of Leader Will Thrive in Africa?

By Franca Ovadje, (LBS, Nigeria)

Motivation for the research

The research is an in-depth study of the role and characteristics of the Africa-born leadership. It takes into account the context-specific factors that leaders must take into account when managing people and doing business in Africa, mainly sub-Saharan Africa and in particular, Nigeria. It starts with a description of  the general sociocultural context of sub-Saharan Africa, to then highlight the appropriate leadership qualities that are needed to succeed in this context.  The Research has two frameworks: 1) “Succeeding in Sub-Saharan Africa” suggests the appropriate action to take to adapt your leadership in accordance with the social dynamics at work. 2) “Same but Different” acknowledges that certain experiences may be common across cultures, but stresses that it is vital to understand the unique ways in which leadership is expressed in Africa.

(You can find some preliminary material here).


4) The Africa Initiative Case Collection 

Also part of this effort, the four associated schools – IESE, LBS, SBS and MDE – are on the process on developing an African Series of selected top business cases which will comprise all the different areas of management – strategy, marketing, operations, human resources, finance, entrepreneurship, ethics – and highlight specific challenges to be found in the African context. The cases will include examples of African-born regional giants, local African entrepreneurs or multinational companies (Gallina Blanca, Coca-Cola, SAB Miller).