Potential African leaders of the future given a helping hand

Hilary Wilce reports on Edinburgh Business School's ambitious outreach programme

This year's successful South African World Cup gave the world a new view of a continent that has long been seen as a black hole for business enterprise and economic development. And not before time. Many African countries are now enjoying average growth rates of more than 5 per cent. The mobile phone is revolutionising banking and communications, new investors are coming forward, millions more children are in school, and in most countries poverty rates are declining steadily.

But burgeoning economies desperately need well-trained leaders to shape and guide them, and higher-level business education opportunities can be hard for aspirant Africans to find and fund.

Step in Edinburgh Business School, at Heriot-Watt University, which has long had links with Africa and which this autumn launched what it claims is the largest scholarship programme offered by a UK university in Africa. Over the next five years, 250 people will receive full scholarships to study for a distance-learning MBA. Thirteen students have completed their first module and a further 25 have recently started. Eventually, the school expects about 50 students a year to be in its programme.

Chipo Shonhiwa, 38, from Zimbabwe, a renewable energy research scientist at the Scientific and Industrial Research and Development Centre in Harare, intends to use her qualification to start an energy services company, making "cost-effective solar water heaters and installing biodigesters". She says: "I want to reduce the burden that women and girls face in collecting firewood for heating and cooking purposes. This would also greatly reduce indoor air pollution that is occurring now from the use of traditional biomass fuel – wood, crop and animal residue. Water heaters could also be used in towns and cities to reduce dependence on the national grid electricity."

Shonhiwa works full-time and goes home to look after her two children before turning to her studies for the evening. She works from hard copies of material sent from Edinburgh and uses the internet at work for online research and discussions with fellow students. As a veteran of long-distance study – she has done postgraduate courses online run by the Lund University in Sweden – she knows how to balance work, family and studying. But she says: "I feel grateful for my fees being paid, since it was not going to be possible to do these studies without a scholarship."

Martha Sambani, 33, from Malawi, who works as an administrative officer at the University of Malawi, plans to use her qualification to help guide the university's transition from state to commercial funding. "Our university lacks proper administrative and financial management skills, due to lack of qualified personnel. I want to see a change in terms of university financial performance and accountability, and this will be my greatest and first assignment to accomplish as soon as I qualify."

Her job and helping to look after her seven siblings make studying a challenge. "I work eight hours a day and go to church on Saturday, so I work Sunday, and at nights I get up at 2am and study until 5am, but in our workplace they are encouraging us to have an MBA, even though the government has no money to support us, so it is wonderful to have the fees paid. And this qualification is comprehensive. It is different from the MBA offered here in Malawi, and eye-opening. I know I will get a promotion because of this, so although it can be difficult to study, it is worth it."

Sambani is among a number of women scholarship winners who have been selected for the Graça Machel Mentoring Programme, devised by the charitable Canon Collins Trust, on the request of Graça Machel, the wife of Nelson Mandela, who has long championed women's education and advancement in Africa. The programme supports women who have received scholarships from a variety of institutions by allocating them mentors to help them make the most of their opportunities for themselves and their communities.

"By providing access to distance-learning MBAs, Edinburgh Business School is contributing to the development of entrepreneurialism at local level, which is vital to the economic health of our continent," says Machel. "As part of a regional network of women leaders, the scholars will be supported and mentored throughout their careers, enabling them to ensure the voice of rural women is heard and heeded at the highest levels of government, business, universities and NGOs."

Edinburgh Business School launched its programmes in Africa 20 years ago and ran a centre in Johannesburg until legislative changes made it impossible for foreign institutions to teach in the country. "We have great experience in, and knowledge of, Africa," says Alick Kitchin, the school's business development director, who says there are 1,200 alumni across Africa who have studied at the business school and there are 2,000 active students in Africa. The school works with Canon Collins Trust, he says, to vet candidates "so we know people have the ability to cope and are going to use their MBA for a good purpose". The students are charged a small but significant amount to take their exams, "because if we are setting up an exam centre in some remote part of Africa, we need to be sure people are going to turn up."

The first group of students has come mainly from countries in southern and eastern Africa, but now students are coming from other parts of the continent, and the scheme covers all of sub-Saharan Africa.

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Lewis Hamilton walks back to the pit lane with his Mercedes burning in the background
Formula 1
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con
comic-con 2014
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
News
i100
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
News
A rub on the tummy sprang Casey back to life
video
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
people
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
News
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
people
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Learning Support Assistant

£50 per day: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Experienced Learning Sup...

Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Are you a flexible inspira...

Graduate Accountant - Banking - Bristol - £140pd

£100 - £140 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Graduate Accountant - Banking - Bri...

Trainee Recruitment Consultants - Banking & Finance

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: SThree Group have been well e...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little