After numerous years of collaborating together, Frankfurt School of Finance & Management in Germany has recently launched a MBA programme with Universite Protestante au Congo in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). They have found that cooperating on new programmes, whether that be an MBA as in this case, or another programme, brings about numerous lessons not just for the students, but for staff in both institutions. I spoke with Amelie Feuerstein, Programme Director at Frankfurt School of Finance & Management about this programme.
What is the Kinshasa MBA?
The MBA for Executives in Kinshasa is a 18 month MBA programme offered by Frankfurt School of Finance & Management in Kinshasa. It is supported by our partner Université Protestante au Congo (UPC). The programme targets senior and middle level managers in Kinshasa who are looking to accelerate their career in DRC and Africa. Our students come from international banks, telecommunication companies, non-governmental institutions, the fashion industry or run their own business. Most of them are Congolese and in their 30s. By educating this emerging middle class, the MBA supports (future) business leaders in Africa. The curriculum fosters entrepreneurship and best practices of international management and ethical leadership.
How did it come about?
The Kinshasa MBA grew out of the existing cooperation we had already with UPC. In 2003, UPC and Frankfurt School set up the Congolese German Centre for Microfinance (CCAM) funded by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). The centre offers a specialized Master Programme for Microfinance and welcomes one cohorte per year of 35 students. The CCAM is one of ten centres of excellence in Africa that are funded by the DAAD and is cooperating with a German university. Through the CCAM ‘s work there were a lot of students and staff exchanges going on between Frankfurt and Kinshasa, so we really got to know each other over the years. Through this relationship we decided to start offering a new MBA programme in Congo.
What have you learnt over the years from UPC?
We have certainly learnt a lot about the DRC, its people and how impressively they deal with a very uncertain environment. Germans believe in plans, but in DRC the future is in many ways a lot less predictable than in Western Europe. Seeing how calmly our colleagues face sudden changes and adapt easily to new realties, is impressive. Another thing we have learnt from our colleagues and students in DRC is the way they communicate with each other: Social networks – not only on a digital level – truly work and live. They inform, they support, and they organize each other in a very direct and effective way. They make things happen without too many unnecessary concerns and doubts and with a great sense for the group.
Is the MBA different than your other MBA offerings? How?
In terms of format, curriculum, Professors and learning standards, the MBA is not different to our other MBA offerings. We actually put a great effort to make sure that it was designed in a way that mirrored our programme in Frankfurt. Content wise we are offering an international perspective combined with certain Africa relevant issues. For example, we offer special modules such as Managing in Africa and the Global Business Environment module has special focus on developments in Sub-Saharan Africa. Students only spend two weeks on our campus in Frankfurt (the rest of the courses are offered in DRC) so students in Kinshasa do not benefit from the physical and social infrastructure we offer here. This is probably the biggest difference to our Full-time or Executive MBA.
Is there much interaction between the UPC and your own students? Any stories about what they have gained from each other?
We hope there will be much interaction between our Congolese students and our students in Germany. Our Congolese students come to Frankfurt for two weeks in July to take some of their courses here. There will be common events and social activities with our EMBA students from Frankfurt. We hope that this is going to be an inspiring and fruitful encounter for both sides. In the long run, it would be fantastic if at least some of them would start working on common projects either for DRC or European non-for-profit or profit. We certainly want to give space to create opportunities of this kind.
What have been some of the challenges? Successes?
One of the biggest challenges was the poor infrastructure in the beginning. Regular power cuts (leading for example, to two hour meetings held in absolute darkness), slow and unstable internet connection (it could take half a day to send one email) or rainfalls that would block the city for hours because the streets weren’t fixed were just a few of the challenges that we faced. But this has changed drastically in Kinshasa’s City Centre. Internet is not an issue anymore, power cuts are a lot less often and the quality of the roads is good. In the beginning we were also not sure if we could offer an MBA entirely taught in English in a francophone country. This wasn’t a problem at all because many of our students have studied or worked in international environments and have very good English.
Any tips for other schools thinking of doing something similar?
Have a strong and reliable partner on the ground. This is particularly important in an environment where there is so little legal and institutional orientation as you will need somebody to help guide you through all the necessary steps of setting up such a programme.
For the moment, almost all of our students live in Kinshasa. This is very much due to the fact that it is very difficult and expensive to fly in from other, even neighboring African countries. Most connections are via Addis Abeba or Nairobi. This is about to change. Apart from Brazzaville we would like to aim for students coming from other regions, for example from from Luanda (Angola).