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
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge
booksJK Rowling to publish new story set in wizard's world for Halloween
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites those Star Wars rumours
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Russell Brand was in typically combative form during his promotional interview with Newsnight's Evan Davis
people

Thought you'd seen it all after the Jeremy Paxman interview?

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch
tv

Greatest mystery about the hit BBC1 show is how it continues to be made at all, writes Grace Dent

News
i100
Life and Style
tech

Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into conflicts
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'
film

"History is violent," says the US Army tank commander Don "Wardaddy" Collier

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

EBD LSA required - Vale of Glamorgan

£60 - £65 per day + plus free travel scheme: Randstad Education Cardiff: The J...

EBD Teacher - Food Technology Specialist

£100 - £181 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: The JobTo plan and deliver all ...

Learning Support Assistant

£50 - £60 per day + plus free travel scheme: Randstad Education Cardiff: The J...

HLTA

£50 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: HLTA - Maldon - ASAPOur School is ...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker