Bringing business education to Niger

Kader Kaneye, Co-President of the African Development University, talks about the challenges and rewards of his work to give Nigeriens a business education. By David Woods-Hale

At 2018’s Association of African Business Schools Conference in Tanzania, AMBA & BGA’s CEO, Andrew Main Wilson, met Kader Kaneye, Co-President of ILIMI African Development University (ADU) in Niger.

Impressed by the mission and values of ADU, in working to provide quality management education in challenging circumstances, Main Wilson made a trip to Niger to visit the School and find out more.

In the 2018 UN Human Development Index (HDI), Niger was ranked 189th out of 189 countries, reinforcing its image as one of the ‘least developed’ countries in the world. Approximately 80% of its population lives in the Sahara or other desert areas, climate change is increasingly causing drought conditions and, at 7.2, the average number of children per mother is the highest in the world, giving rise to the world’s fastest-growing population at a rate of 4% per annum. 

ADU was created more than two years ago – the brainchild of Nigerien businessman, Kaneye – and has set out to give Nigeriens an opportunity for business education, featuring international best-practice standards, irrespective of financial means. 

Supported by visiting faculty from leading US Business Schools and high-profile local entrepreneurs and CEOs, Kaneye and his team dedicate many unpaid hours each week to nurturing the development of an enthusiastic body of students, in a country where only 1% of Nigeriens undertake tertiary education. 

When Main Wilson visited the campus, the construction of a new Business School was still underway and there were no full-time faculty members – yet the School’s significant impact across the local community inspired him to invite Kaneye to address AMBA & BGA’s Global Conference in Istanbul, Turkey, in 2019.

After Kaneye’s keynote speech at the conference, we were able to find out more about the story of ADU and how it had been created in such a difficult environment, with extremely limited resources.

How have you been able to set up a Business School in such difficult circumstances? 

It has been a combination of hard work, good fortune and timing. I came to Niger after graduating from Business School in the US. I came back with a close friend who had played a role in Barack Obama’s political campaign and we brought together stakeholders in Niger (including parents, students, governments, the corporate world and traditional leaders). We told them that they were facing economic, political and societal issues and we thought education could be the solution. 

They all wanted to be part of this and it became a social movement. Everyone came to help in different capacities and something we planned to start in three years was up and running in three months. 

Can you describe your role and the challenges you face as a leader?

I am a Founder of the university and I’m currently its President. I will say that running a university every day, when you come from the private sector, is quite challenging. I’m learning every day. I love the process of learning, but at the same time, learning comes with mistakes and I make them all the time. Sometimes, the impact [of these mistakes] can be felt and it slows our progress. This is one key challenge we face on a personal level. 

As an organisation, we face two key challenges. One is awareness. Niger is not well known by most people, so I have to explain what and where Niger is and how different it is from any conception a person will have about Africa. Raising awareness about the project is a challenge. The second challenge is around funding, but we are making progress. 

Tell us more about the ILIMI African Development University

ILIMI’ is a Hausa term, one of the most widely spoken languages in western Africa. It means ‘ethical knowledge’ and it says a lot about what we’re trying to achieve with this university: teaching students knowledge, but knowledge they can use to leverage ethical behaviour and leadership in society. 

The world’s leaders all have something in common: a college education. But we think there is something missing in education and that is the ethical part; the commitment to serve. This is what we embed in the core of our education. 

We currently offer undergraduate, post-graduate and executive education programmes and have 250 people in our community (110 undergraduates, 40 studying at master’s level, 100 studying English and a few more in executive education). 

In a country where the role of a woman is challenging, we’re proud that 70% of our student population is made up of women. Women perform the best in our entrance exam, and as a result, our community is heavily leveraging the role of women in society. 

Do you think Business Schools around the world have lessons to learn from your experiences? 

They can learn from our business model and the innovation in setting up the university. Usually a startup Business School would need significant resources and lots of money for a brick-and-mortar approach, as well as a permanent faculty and PhDs. A lack of resources and scarcity pushed us to innovate – for example, the way we brought stakeholders together to cover the fundamentals [of business] and the way we focus on ethics and 21st-century skills, while teaching students solid knowledge. Flexibility is something we can teach universities around the world. 

What are the next steps for you and your School? 

I have lots of big dreams and projects. We are moving forwards in our sustainability plan and we would like to break even by year five. For that to happen, we’ll need 800-1,000 students and more physical capacity, so we are raising money to finish our second building. 

After that, we’re planning to launch a large campaign to build a world-class campus where we can have residential programmes. In parallel, we’re planning the launch of an engineering school. These are our big projects at the moment. 

Do you feel optimistic about the future of business education in Niger and the African continent? 

I’m extremely optimistic. Business education is here to stay. When you look at the challenges in countries like my own, we need managers in all sectors – and a Business School to prepare these managers. For me, the future of management is within the Business School. 

How important are the connections you can make at the AMBA & BGA Global Conference? 

They’re fundamental. That’s why I came here. It’s critical to build credibility, to reassure the community and our teams who work day and night in the face of the impossible. When the world is looking at us and wants to work with us, it gives a different and special energy to every member of the team. This allows us not just to move mountains but to lift them and throw them out of the way. We’re working together for success with everyone. 

Kader Kaneye is the Co-Founder and Co-President of ILIMI Development University (ADU) in Niger. He is also a certified practising accountant with 12 years of experience in promoting corporate ethics through auditing and consulting for international development organisations, governments, banking, and services in more than 15 countries across francophone Africa. He holds a master’s of public administration (MPA) from Harvard University’s Kennedy School.

You may also like...

Translate »