At the Start of the Project: Objectives, Plans, Additions – Prof. Macomber

January 1: Africa: Building Cities. 40 Harvard MBA students and I start on-the-ground research in a week looking at power, transport, water and more. We work with dozens of content experts on the ground.

January 1, 2018

In this post:

  • Here we go!
  • Doing Business in Africa – Harvard Business School course
  • Africa Rising – Short Intensive Program
  • This program: Immersive Field Course: Building Cities
  • Resilient Cities
  • Industrial Parks and Special Economic Zones
  • Creating and Sharing Knowledge

At Harvard:

Interest in Africa continues to grow at Harvard and at Harvard Business School. In addition to the Addis/Dar project, I’ll be creating and leading a new elective course in the MBA program for Spring 2018, “Doing Business in Africa.”   We’ll approach this complex and fast changing topic looking at three main themes:   1) Market segmentation and selection; 2) Growth capital; and 3) Technology to assist with (1) and (2) and to perhaps “leapfrog” over obstacles to growth like poor infrastructure, lack of transparency in commercial awards and payments, and how to get scale.   Industry focus will be on investing, infrastructure, agribusiness, personal services, and logistics.

At HBS this winter term there will be a “Short Intensive Program” featuring faculty, alumni, and key business leaders, “Africa Rising.”  This a four day program on campus.   My other classroom course, “Building Sustainable Cities and Infrastructure,” starts in late January.

The student-run Africa Business Conference in March expected to once again draw over 1000 attendees to Boston, to the largest African business conference held anywhere outside Africa.

The Senior Executive Program: Africa is a powerful Executive Education offering for about 70 Africa business leaders per year, taught both on campus and on the Continent.

HBS has opened an Africa Research Office and hired its first Director.  Excellent news for further scholarship and impact.

In Africa, January 2018:

This program, the Immersive Field Course, “Africa: Building Cities” starts in a week (PDF).   We are enthusiastic and excited to be conducting research in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania – now for the third consecutive year.   We are building on past interviews and research.    The eight student teams are:  Traditional Energy, Renewable Energy, Urban Transport, Inter-city Transport, Water/Sanitation and Agricultural Innovation, Municipal Solid Waste, Commercial Real Estate, and ICT/Communication Technology.

These 40 Harvard MBA students are not necessarily expert in economic development, infrastructure, or even Africa. What they are good at is probing research, thoughtful synthesis of disparate information, effective use of the tools learned in the MBA program, and in particular bringing their prior career experience to bear.   The students average 28 years old, and they are from 10 countries ranging from Colombia to Kenya to China. Most have had several years of hands on responsibility in industries including finance, consulting, manufacturing, technology, military, teaching, and community services.  We ask them not to get bogged down in the issues of today in Ethiopia and Tanzania – but rather to look ahead at “what could be” in the next 5 or 10 years assuming more powerful technology, more creative finance, and progress in the capability of government and other institutions.   This means that some quite creative and thought provoking work can emerge.

We will be moving beyond the work of prior years in which students looked at each industry as a stand-alone and explored the potential for future private finance and delivery of public infrastructure in those realms.  (Students are responsible for creating their own research meetings with government leaders, business people, investors, academics, consultants, operators, and more in each sector).

One way in which we are building on prior years is to look at how the different sectors relate to each other.  In particular, commercial real estate has very large potential coordination and value creation opportunities connected to urban transport, and also with power, water, and sanitation. How can real estate permissions, permitting, and delivery enhance investments in and effectiveness of other infrastructure?

Similarly, infotech/ telcomms are interesting for study in their own rights in Ethiopia and Tanzania since the regulatory setups are so different. But for this work, ICT and telco tools are more important as enablers of better utilization of hard assets in transit, water, sanitation, and power…and as potential avenues for more transparent investment in each of these areas.

Finally, we are explicitly tying the reports and outcomes to align with common goals for economic development, business success, and individual opportunity.    In both Addis Ababa and Dar es Salaam, this means considering how private investment in public infrastructure can advance the program of 100 Resilient Cities to make each of these cities more robust and effective. Another way to think of more resilience is as less vulnerability: less vulnerability to power outages, to transit delays, to water shortages, to sanitation problems.  (Addis Ababa and 100RC)

At a second level, students are asked to suggest how private investment in public infrastructure can help advance a broader policy goal: in Ethiopia, the Industrial Parks Strategy; and in Tanzania, the Special Economic Zone/ Export Processing Zone initiative.

By taking this approach, we are confident that student work will of course engage and inform the students, and will also spread back to Harvard and to other institutions…but most importantly, that some of our findings can indeed help cities and nations to advance.

From Addis Ababa to Dar es Salaam to Harvard: Learning and Sharing

We start in Addis Ababa with a panel introducing resilient cities and transit oriented development, and later in the week have a panel about the industrial parks strategy. In Dar es Salaam, we will speak about resilient cities and economic zones.  Other plenary speakers and site visits fill in details ranging from waste to energy to power plants to building construction.    Two large receptions with “Friends of Harvard in Africa” help connect MBA students with local content experts.   And of course, our final presentations in each city summarize and synthesize findings.

Student teams capture output in this blog, to share what we have learned and also to be sure that future teams build on current work.   The 2017 reports are here and the 2016 reports are here.  My own recap of January 2017 is here: Seven Trips, Three Insights.

In addition, I try to disseminate knowledge via writings and Harvard Business School Case Studies.  Case studies currently in draft for classes at HBS and then for use in business programs and businesses throughout Africa and the world include:

  • Ethiopia’s Industrial Parks Strategy
  • Kifiya: A Digital Financial Services Provider
  • Cross Boundary Energy Tanzania
  • The Nigeria Police Pension Fund and Infrastructure Investment

Writings have included:   What Africa Can Teach the America about How to Create a Good Infrastructure Plan

Other writings can be found on my Faculty Profile at


At the Start of the Project: Objectives, Plans, Additions – Prof. Macomber


Water, Sanitation and Agriculture in Ethiopia and Tanzania

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