“My vision is to build an e-commerce ecosystem that allows consumers and businesses to do all aspects of business online”…… Jack Ma
Dear readers, I am afraid I have to interrupt the series I started last week to write about a thought-changing experience I had recently.
Last year I sat down quietly to reflect on my recent ‘skirmishes’ after leaving the banking practice. It has been made up of bits and pieces of consulting, training, authoring books, writing articles in B&FT, speaking engagements and recently playing grandma duties. Since my core business has been in banking, I have continued to be an ardent follower of the latest changes in the industry and been recently ‘awakened’ to the fast rate at which almost every transaction has been placed online for easy access by as many customers who are savvy enough to use them, without entering the banks.
I fear to say that many banking jobs are now on the line, as virtual or digital banking aided by artificial intelligence seems set to result in making banking nearly extinct within the next decade – if not earlier! Even certain aspects of banking textbooks as well as my own two books may cease to be relevant. My only consolation is in the fact that the principles of banking continue to be relevant, insofar as they are fused into the risk management aspect of digital banking. Based on the high illiteracy level in our part of the world, some sections of the public – especially the illiterates – will still need to be assisted with the traditional banking to get total financial inclusion.
The CEIBS-WELA programme
Based on these perceptions, I decided to diversify my interests and found myself joining the China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) in their exclusive programme called WELA. The Women Entrepreneurship and Leadership for Africa Programme (WELA) is a practical, hands-on programme that examines the issues, challenges and opportunities women face in creating, managing and leading companies in Africa.
The programme is specially designed for women entrepreneurs, and is focused on enabling them to identify business opportunities as well as maintain viable and sustainable enterprises. CEIBS creates a supportive and participatory learning environment for the exchange of best practices and experiences, strategy development and skills building, working within the context of women’s economic development issues and priorities.
Upon completion of the programme, I am now convinced why the CEIBS MBA and Global EMBA programmes have been described by the Financial Times of UK as the No. 1 in Asia and No. 5 in the world! CEIBS is a joint-venture for management education, co-founded by the EU and Chinese governments, and with its mission of ‘Chinese Depth, Global Breadth’ it has campuses in China, Ghana and Switzerland. It’s combination of western and eastern principles, with two Presidents – one based in Europe and another based in China – makes it unique.
Having been colonised by the West, we have always looked there for products and solutions to our problems. We have also had the perception that everything Chinese is of inferior quality. I have realised that it is about time for us Africans to re-examine some of our perceptions and learn the truth about all people around the world to identify what is best for us. This is what we mean by “Thinking globally and acting locally”.
I attended an info session at the CEIBS Accra campus last year to listen to their story. I even asked the facilitators what should make me, a retiree, attend such a programme, and of what use it would be to me! Anyway, they finally encouraged me to join.
The uniqueness of WELA
There are several entrepreneurship programmes run by various institutions and organizations; however, on 30th November 2018, I joined a group of about 22 ladies at the auditorium of the CEIBS Accra campus to start the programme, which was week-end based and organised bi-monthly. This made it convenient for ladies who needed to balance family and work.
This was the first time I was attending lectures with a cross-section of ladies from various backgrounds, ages, working in various sectors of the economy (Oil and gas, owners of supermarkets, clothing lines, online stores of various products, catering services, banking, financial advisory services, civil service, fashion, network marketing, petroleum retailing etc.). The age-range was between mid-twenties and sixty-plus. We all had one common goal…to improve ourselves and our businesses.
For those yet to start entrepreneurship, they wanted to hit the ground running – learning from faculty members with rich global experiences to get the best-fit methods. Bonding started on the first day with our able, gentle-hearted Prof. Mathew Tsamenyi, who broke down Entrepreneurial Finance and Accounting into basic language for all ladies to understand. We all promised to be on top of the financial reports, and take ownership when they are presented to us by our auditors and accountants.
The uniqueness of the WELA programme was its strategy of using each participant’s business as a case studiy, whereby we all had a part in identifying issues and making recommendations to assist each other. New ideas assimilated were immediately put into use as we became more focused in our strategies. Various faculty members from across the globe took us through subjects we had always taken for granted. Entrepreneurship Sales and marketing, Strategy and Innovation, Entrepreneurship, Leadership and Gender issues in Africa.
Without proper strategies and innovative ideas, many SMEs fail within less than five years. Each participant was given one-on-one mentoring by international faculty members with wide global experiences, which manifested as they reviewed our projects and business plans and re-directed us to move into more realistic and achievable goals. I have personally gained much from my mentor, as I am now diversifying into new areas.
The Day of Mixed Emotions
Our last module included a day that each participant would never forget. It was due to that day I personally believed the course was exclusively for women – guided by an experienced International Organisation Development, Change and Knowledge Consultant, with decades of experience working with international organisations, teams and individuals to enhance their effectiveness. The overall aim of that module was to offer us an opportunity to consider our impacts as leaders, bring more of our authentic selves and years of experience to our role as leaders, and open up to challenge and support from peers to sharpen our leadership practices.
The ‘Show and Tell’ five-minute performances by each lady culminated into a day when we all felt free to share stories of our past life and experiences, and how far we have come. It was really an all-ladies emotional day – amid tears, hugs and assurances. One of our participants, a thought-leader and an influential radio counsellor, ended it by creating a dark-room atmosphere, plus a candlelight breathing session to relax our thoughts and minds.
Amid all that, we all had to do practical assignments during each module related to solving our various individual businesses.
The China Immersion Trip
The icing on the cake was the twelve-day trip to China. It started with 45 African ladies hosted at the CEIBS headquarters in Shanghai, with a series of lectures in the mornings followed by company visits in the afternoon. We were honoured to be part of CEIBS 25th anniversary celebration with the theme ‘China meets Africa’, where global leaders as well as government leaders participated in various panel discussions. The course presidents of the two more patronised groups – of about 22 ladies each from Ghana and Nigeria – were given the big platform to share their experiences in combining family and entrepreneurship. Trust me, they did not disappoint. We were also given opportunities to ask questions about doing business in China.
The Alibaba Treat
For the first time we were hosted in a three-day collaboration between CEIBS and Alibaba Group founded by Jack Ma, a Chinese and a former university English lecturer. We were given a unique opportunity to learn about the Alibaba eco-system, which exposed us to various new services with special reference to digital payment and inclusive financial services, the digital economy’s development of China, the Hema Retail at Ali Mall; and the value-chain/supply chain shift from the traditional trade model to platform business model, exhibited at the Bainau village we visited – which is the first e-commerce village in China.
To curb migration of the youth to urban areas, the e-commerce concept has ensured that while farmers have a ready market for their walnuts, middle-aged people process the nuts as the youth take part in packaging and executing the e-commerce model. Surprisingly, that is where we found more villas and bigger mansions, plus the latest models of flashy cars – owned by the youth in the village! By our standards, they were not villages.
My Final words: Embracing Change
The programme has exposed us to the best options and methods of doing business in China. Their new aim, of shifting from copying the West to Innovation, has resulted in other countries now copying from China. Even without doing business in China, we have been exposed to the fast mode in which digital banking has taken over most traditional banking services.
The Alibaba Digital Museum also gave us insights into how artificial intelligence is transforming the world! It will definitely take us a while to reach there, but for now we will share knowledge with our local entrepreneurs to strategically position themselves in their entrepreneurial dreams. Africa, as a continent, can also come together as a force to reckon with so as to deal with the global giants. Entrepreneurs also need to learn from global economies, and act on those lessons as we localise them to suit our environments. One unforgettable set of principles from Alibaba is – Customers first, employees second, and shareholders third!
These lessons learnt from the CEIBS programme can eventually help SMEs pitch their plans more professionally to access any finance from interested investors. Dear financial services providers, the digital banking era is hitting us hard and we cannot close our eyes. This is the time to learn more about the risks inherent in these services and reduce them to the barest minimum. If you are in the financial services industry, this is the time to learn new things to fit into the digital world, or plan to exit and become a well-informed entrepreneur.
Best of luck.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alberta Quarcoopome is a Fellow of the Institute of Bankers and CEO of ALKAN Business Consult Ltd. She is the Author of two books: “The 21st Century Bank Teller: A Strategic Partner” and “My Front Desk Experience: A Young Banker’s Story”. She uses her experience and practical case studies for training young bankers in operational risk management, sales, customer service, banking operations ethics and fraud.