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African Management Initiative Named a Finalist in Gratitude Awards Competition; Winners to Be Chosen at SOCAP

African Management Initiative, led by Rebecca Harrison, has been named as one of nine finalists in the 2014 Gratitude Awards from the Gratitude Network to be awarded at SOCAP this coming week in San Francisco. The finalists were chosen from among 32 semi-finalists, who were chosen from among nearly 150 applicants. To learn more about the awards and SOCAP, see our story in Forbes. You can read all our coverage of the Gratitude Awards, including profiles of all nine finalists here.

Four winners will be announced on Thursday, September 4, 2014. We obtained a copy of the application from African Management Initiative so we could share it with you below:

Please describe your venture:

AMI empowers and inspires African managers and entrepreneurs through practical and accessible learning and coaching tools, delivered online and offline. Our vision is an Africa transformed by 1 million managers performing effectively and responsibility by 2023.

What is the problem are you solving and why is this important?

Good management is a key missing link in Africa’s ability to become more competitive, create jobs, develop strong and growing small and medium sized businesses and to close the skills gap. Africa has reached a turning point: its economies are growing, investment is on the rise, and its population is young, large and increasingly affluent. But organisations are struggling to source the management talent needed to service this rapid growth, while many young Africans lack the skills needed to secure jobs or start successful businesses. If Africa is to translate the opportunities of the next decade into greater prosperity and economic inclusion, it will need skilled, effective and responsible managers and entrepreneurs to build competitive companies, efficient public services and a thriving SME sector. Effective management education and training will be critical. At least 10-15 million Africans are working in management or supervisory roles, most of these in SMEs and the vast majority are unable to access quality and relevant management education and support. Africa urgently needs innovative and sustainable models that leverage technology to reduce costs and reach underserved groups of managers at scale.

What is your solution and business model?

AMI is building Africa’s first social learning platform to deliver practical and accessible learning and coaching tools to managers and entrepreneurs, with a strong focus on small and medium-sized businesses. Accessibility: We deliver high-quality and engaging management skills training through an innovative and accessible web and mobile learning platform open to anyone, anywhere with access to the Internet. Our platform is built for a bandwidth-constrained environment and with mobile in mind. For those without reliable Internet connectivity, AMI delivers offline versions our courses through innovative Learning Labs – a blended learning approach combining online content with additional offline support. These are offered direct to companies and via local partners such as incubators and business associations. AFFORDABILITY: Courses are free, with an optional small fee to receive a certificate. Learning Lab workshops are significantly cheaper than current private executive education offerings, thanks to our low-cost and scalable blended learning model. LOCAL RELEVANCE: AMI has secured content partnerships with three of Africa’s top-ranked business schools: South Africa’s Gordon Institute of Business Science, Nigeria’s Lagos Business School and Kenya’s Strathmore Business Schools. Our courses feature Africa’s best teachers, who address Africa’s unique opportunities and challenges. PRACTICAL FOCUS: Most African business education is overly academic and out of step with the requirements of its dynamic economies. It is badly suited to small business and entrepreneurs. AMI learning resources are practical, and grounded in our deep understanding of local markets. Assignments require participants to apply what they have learned on the job. NETWORKING: ‘Social’ is at the heart of our work, thanks to the innovative AMI ‘buddy’ accountability system, which is integrated into courses and across the broader community. Managers and entrepreneurs join thousands across Africa in lifelong learning and practice. Our focus on interaction and accountability improves learning outcomes and engagement, and provides valuable networking opportunities to users.

What is unique patentable, or otherwise not seen elsewhere about your venture?

Proprietary platform: our platform is uniquely designed for an African context, with mobile in mind and light on bandwidth. Content partnerships: We have unique partnerships with the continent’s most respected management education brands. Price: Our innovative use of technology allows us to offer quality management learning tools and resources at a fraction of existing offerings by business schools and training consultants. Relevant: Most online offerings available in Africa are based on Western resources. AMI is the first to offer world class but uniquely African courses with African teachers and African case studies, at a price small businesses can afford. First to market: We already have a Virtual Campus with more than 6,000 African managers in our network. We piloted our approach with Africa’s first MOOC last year, attracting almost 1,000 participants from 25 African countries The data and experience we gained gives us a strong advantage over other potential entrants. Brand, network and reputation: As well as the referral power of our partner brands, we have secured high-profile press coverage in the FT, CNN, Bloomberg Businessweek, Fast Company, Euronews, the LA Times and in African media. We have secured grant funding and seed investment from the Lundin Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, the Tony Elumelu Foundation and the Isibindi Trust (funded by the Office of Jennifer and Jonathan Oppenheimer).

Please describe who your customers are and how you know they want your product?

We target managers and entrepreneurs across Africa. Our pilot course and existing online community showed evidence of strong demand from the following segments: – Owner/entrepreneurs or small businesses. About 1/3rd of our pilot users described themselves as entrepreneurs or small business owners. Most are start-up entrepreneurs, or owners of established small businesses on the cusp of growth. They want practical courses, tools and resources to help them grow their businesses. They told us they want to learn anywhere, anytime, online, and loved our pilot offering. Many entrepreneurs who attend our Learning Labs in Kenya end up booking AMI to train their whole team. – Middle managers at medium-sized companies: These managers like AMI’s business school brand partners. They accounted for a little over a third of our online pilot participants and account for about half of our Learning Lab participants. Many come to AMI through their companies, who tell us they love AMI’s practical and affordable approach to learning. – Junior managers at larger companies: These managers are well represented in our online community and made up a large percentage of online pilot participants. They like our certificates from top business school brands, and enjoy learning online. Their employers tell us they like AMI’s more affordable approach to management training, which allows them to extend learning and development to junior staff.

In which country does the target population your company serves reside?

Kenya

Please comment on the strength of the venture’s leadership:

CEO Rebecca Harrison has a decade of experience in Africa as a journalist, manager and then social entrepreneur. Chairman Jonathan Cook is the former director of one of South Africa’s leading business schools and has decades of experience in management education in Africa. Chief Product Officer Bronwen McConkey is a respected online learning professional and former MD of the UK’s Virtual School. Head of Business Development Martin Mbaya is a co-founder of MIT’s tech and entrepreneurship network in Africa and founding manager at Dalberg Research. Together, they have unrivalled experience and networks in management education, technology and small business development in Africa.

Please describe the impact your company will have or is having, the way that you measure your impact, and the scale you plan to reach?

AMI measures impact through: -Reach: how many individuals and companies take our courses and engage with our learning and coaching tools? (measured by counting course participants, workshop attendees, business clients and AMI members) – engagement: how many participants actually complete courses and engage more deeply with AMI processes (measured by tracking retention rates, conversion to AMI membership, number of managers and organisations engaged in AMI coaching and development processes) – knowledge transfer: to what extent to individuals improve their knowledge after taking an AMI course? (measured by comparing course pre and post course assessments) – improvement in skills/competence: to what extent to individuals actually acquire new skills or improve performance (measured by tracking improvement in skills and competence through AMI competency analysis and bencharking tool) – improvement in individual performance (measured by tracking performance of individuals engaged in AMI’s personal coaching and development 360 tool, vouched for by accountability partner and other peers) – improvement in organisational performance (measured by company scorecard currently being developed by AMI to show performance against a list of People Planet and Profit indicators) Our targets for 2014: – Reach 20,000 individuals – Completion and engagement of 10% (x3 global average for open online learning) – Tangible improvement in knowledge among 80% of participants – Tangible improvement in competence among 80% of individuals participating in competency analysis – Tangible improvement in on-the-job performance among 80% of those engaged in personal coaching/development – Company metrics to be introduced only in 2015

How is your organization innovative? Have collaborations with others enabled that innovation?

Innovation is at the heart of what we do. Tech: We are launching Africa’s first social learning platform. It is uniquely designed for maximum access in a bandwidth-constrained environment and with mobile in mind. Learning process – Our learning approach is innovative. We combine formal courses with peer learning and coaching. It is uniquely both scalable and personalised. Our courses themselves are innovative – we build them around practical tools that can be downloaded and used, not around textbook curricula. And we use an innovative approach to production, combining audio with engaging animation to keep both costs and bandwidth requirements lower than those of our global competitors.

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