Doing Business in Africa - Harvard Business School MBA Program

Doing Business in Africa

Course Number #1435

Senior Lecturer John Macomber
Spring; Q3; 1.5 credits
14 sessions
A limited number of cross-registrants will be considered by petition.
Petitions to Cross-Register are due January 24, 2018.

Course Overview and Objectives

This course introduces frameworks and models for smart and focused investing and operations across sectors, nations, industries, and time frames in Africa.   Students will learn tools and skills to help navigate the business landscape of Africa in terms of selection of investments and markets, as well as in locally relevant (nation by nation and district by district) components of effective operating businesses.  

Africa is unlike any other emerging region in several regards:  It’s massive (land area greater than India plus China plus USA plus Western Europe); there are about 54 countries and almost as many visas; 40 or so currencies; and hundreds of languages.  There is little connectivity between nations and cities; institutions (governments, law, and banking) are weak; and the nations are poor.  Yet there are over a billion people in sub-Saharan Africa today, with the population expected to grow faster than in any other region on the planet. The continent is rapidly urbanizing. There is resource scarcity but also resource abundance. 

Career Focus

The target audience is students who expect to be involved in substantial business operations or in investing in Africa (primarily sub-Saharan).  The educational objective is to understand key aspects of geography, capital, institutions, and supply chain so that students can be successful operators and investors.  The point of view is largely that of managers and entrepreneurs on the ground.  A secondary audience will be students who expect to be global capital allocators, consultants, or leaders in multinational corporations.

Course Structure

The course is organized around five themes that cut across all business sectors in Africa in ways that are different than in other emerging markets:   1) Access to growth capital; 2) Market segmentation and selection including country, region, sector, and place in the supply chain; 3) Technology to overcome barriers or to “leapfrog” in business expansion; 4) Leadership and management; 5) Logistics.   

The cases focus on five business sectors which have particular potential impact in Africa and particular appeal for HBS students:  1) Investing and Capital Markets; 2) Infrastructure Finance and Delivery (including PPPs as well as urbanization); 3) Food and Agribusiness; 4) Manufacturing & Processing; and 5) Retail & Personal Services.    These are all areas which involve a) large amounts of capital b) managerial skill and c) job creation.  The course will not look at mining, oil & gas, health care, education, or NGO leadership.

Course Administration

Course grades will be based on class participation (50%) and a final exam (50%).
This is a 1.5 credit course.  Prof. Macomber will consider supervising 1.5 credit Independent Projects in Q3Q4 if they are related to student interests in doing business in Africa and if they will contribute to course development via cases, notes, relevant analyses, white papers. Independent Project proposals must be submitted by Wednesday, January 24th using the IP Tool.   Prof. Macomber is pleased to discuss proposals in December and January.

Related Courses

Short Intensive Program (January): Africa Rising
Immersive Field Course (January): Africa: Building Cities
Investing in Emerging Markets
Building Sustainable Cities and Infrastructure
Doing Business in China
Managing International Trade and Investment
Globalization and Emerging Markets