Raleigh International - formerly known as Operation Raleigh, with a strong reputation for developing young people - has joined forces with Ashridge Management College in a scheme aimed at solving the dilemma that commonly faces managers in international organisations: that the skills that can only be acquired through real-life experience are those that are needed before the managers are thrown in the deep end.
The venture - the International Management Challenge - will take managers out to Africa to work on such projects as building schools or clinics, or working on the infrastructure of national parks. The projects will then be carried out by Raleigh volunteers.
It seemed a logical step to link up with Ashridge, which is attempting to do with senior employees much the same thing that Raleigh does with young people, said Raleigh's chief executive, Jamie Robertson-Macleod.
Managers will take on strategic responsibility - for a whole business or a unit - in their first international appointments. They will have to identify, negotiate and set up the projects, but will not become involved in developing them.
Keith Milmer, project manager at Ashridge, said: 'The idea that we have is to take senior managers who are looking for rapid experience in dealing with cross-cultural barriers. They won't have anything to fall back on; it's learning by doing, quite unlike a classroom.'
The projects are carefully selected to be of maximum benefit to the communities in the developing countries and the young volunteers.
Ashridge has begun holding briefings aimed at raising interest in the first project, due to start in Botswana in November, and says it has already had some interest from multinational organisations, including oil companies. It points out that the programme fee of pounds 6,750, plus VAT, provides plenty of opportunities for good PR. It is estimated that there will initially be about 16 places for senior managers. If the programme is regarded as successful, this may be increased to 24.
Before flying to Africa, the managers will spend two days at Ashridge, in Hertfordshire, where they will learn about personal leadership styles and working in teams. This is particularly important, said Mr Milmer, because they will have to work with international teams as well as liaise with national and local government authorities.
After leaving Ashridge they will visit some existing projects in Zimbabwe, before heading for Botswana, where they will arrive six months before the Raleigh volunteers.
The managers will spend 10 days in Africa, planning their projects and negotiating with officials. Support will be available from the local Raleigh field staff, and there will be regular feedback and advice from an Ashridge tutor, who will ensure that the experience they gain can be applied in the workplace. Mr Milmer admitted: 'To be frank, there is a real risk that they will fail to set up the projects.' But a back-up system will ensure that the projects go ahead once the managers have returned to Britain.