Jonathan Cook

An Africa-wide drive to develop management skills intends to create people who "make things happen", says Jonathan Cook, director of the Gordon Institute of Business Science (Gibs) and a board member of the Association of African Business Schools (AABS).

The African Management Initiative (AMI) aims to develop a million managers. Africa, says Cook, is a wealthy continent inhabited by poor people. There's no shortage of natural resources and potential wealth. There are also good business leaders, but not nearly enough. "They don't have the depth of management below them," he says. "Investors have no-one to invest in. Multinationals struggle to find local managers. Local companies often have no-one."

Even those companies enjoying rapid business growth can't guarantee it will continue, because of the lack of management skills.

In a report, the AMI says: "Large multinationals and pan-African regional companies describe how, faced with the twin challenges of fast growth and a dearth of local talent, they are forced to import managers from overseas. When they do invest in developing local people, [those people] are too often poached.

"Entrepreneurs trying to catapult their business to the next stage of growth describe how they struggle to attract the people to help them make their dreams reality, and too often end up trying to do everything themselves.

"NGOs cite a lack of human capacity as one of the top constraints for expanding and say they struggle to meet donor demands for professionalism. Investors say they are keen to pump money into the continent, but that finance often needs to be accompanied by extensive managerial support, which too often renders smaller deals unprofitable."

The AMI is a joint venture between the AABS, the Global Business School Network, Canada's Lundin Foundation and the Lagos-based Tony Elumelu Foundation. Cook says there is growing collaboration between African business schools. But they can't solve Africa's problems alone; they need private-sector support.

With an estimated 110m Africans in formal employment, the AMI reckons about 11m of these are in managerial or supervisory roles. It says: "Our research tells us that most of these people are inadequately trained and not fully prepared for this responsibility."

That's bad news for Africa's development. "Good managers build vibrant companies that create jobs and the capacity to absorb resources and drive development."

In order to substantially improve the quality of management, any programme will have to reach 10% of those managers - hence the 1m target.

The AMI hopes to drive this in three ways. The first is to create more business schools. These will be primarily in the private sector, which will require the support of sponsors and philanthropists. "We need high net worth people who share our vision for Africa's future," says Cook.

The second initiative is what the AMI calls "mass impact": inexpensive, short, practical management programmes for middle managers. Much of the emphasis would be on personal development. Though the focus will initially be on small and medium companies, Cook says it won't be limited to them. "The need for managers is across the board."

Then there is the AMI Register, an online network of managers committed to the highest standards of performance and responsibility. This could include both individuals and companies dedicated to management development. Cook says options include the creation of professional standards and peer review. "We want to create a standard people will seek out, will aspire to."

He admits it could take several years to reach the 1m target. "In a sense it's ridiculously ambitious, but it has to be done. A lot of people in Africa will have never seen a good manager, so they don't know what is required to be one. We have to break the cycle."