‘Africa’s sustainable development conference fosters best practices’
The International Conference on Africa’s Sustainable Development (ICASuD) 2021 slated for October seeks to foster exchange among academia, policymakers and industry professionals. In this exclusive interview, Ayodotun Stephen Ibidunni, founder and managing director of Shaveh Consulting talks about what to expect from the first ICASuD and how the industry can best collaborate with academia. He spoke with Stephen Onyekwelu. Excerpts:
You specialise in strategy and operations management and entrepreneurship, what informed your choice of career path?
My passion for strategy grew from my Bachelor of Science experience when I was inspired by the teaching of my final year lecturer who mentioned that strategic management is concerned with setting the long-term direction of an organization, and thus, required critical thinking about the survival of the firm.
As a critical thinker and problem solver, his words struck a chord in me. So, at that time, I made up my mind to focus my undergraduate research on strategic management with an emphasis on media firms. Then, I delved into the field of operations management when as a Masters student my supervisor challenged me into data analytics by ensuring that I learnt and used statistical software to run my analysis myself.
Then, after my MSc, I got employed as a lecturer in Covenant University, where he (my MSC Supervisor) was also lecturing at the time, and in the same department. So, he got me into co-teaching operations management with him. Upon his resignation, he handed the course over to me to coordinate, and I have been coordinating the course since that time.
When I enrolled for my doctor of philosophy (PhD), I determined to undertake a study that engages both tools to advance scientific understanding in the field of management research, which I did successfully. So, even though I had my PhD broadly in Business Administration, I specialized in Strategy & Operations Management. The applicability of my research to entrepreneurship is fully situated in the area of strategic entrepreneurship, where I investigate issues around enterprise development and entrepreneurship practice/theory from a strategic perspective.
Your research works focus on issues that promote sustainable development, structural transformation and poverty eradication across African communities. Would you want to share examples or case studies of how your research work is achieving this?
I design my research to pertain to a global focus of sustainable development with a niche on quality education (Goal 4), no poverty (Goal 1), decent work and economic growth (Goal 8), and industry, innovation and infrastructure (Goal 9).
These studies have proposed such recommendations that are relevant at the individual, organizational and institutional levels. My research work titled Impact of Strategic Orientation Dimensions on New Product Development in Agro-based Nigerian Firms published in 2014 for instance emphasised the importance of a research and development (R&D) driven culture as a part of agricultural firms’ strategy for becoming innovating.
In 2019 my research on Using Explicit Knowledge of Groups to Enhance Firm Productivity: A DEA Application explored how human capital, especially human knowledge that is manifest in formal education and training, is being utilized by telecommunication firms as an economic good.
This study was a cross-fertilization of the strategy and operations management fields. The study covered all telecommunication firms’ customer service centres across Lagos and the Federal Capital Territory and found that there were significant levels of unutilized employee knowledge in some customer service centres.
As such the study recommended, among other things a redistribution strategy of employees across the customer service centres. Other strategies recommended include that DMUs that were identified to be productivity deficient should hold resources input constant while their employees made efforts to scale up operations to enhance productivity, among others.
In 2020, I developed a theory to support learning in Higher Education Institutions in a way that will make both the teacher and their students gain better satisfaction from the knowledge exchange process. The theory is captioned Teacher-Student Knowledge Exchange. It got published with the title Conceptualizing A Teacher-Student Knowledge Exchange Perspective: Exploring the Tripartite Relationships between SECI Theory, LMX Theory and HEIs’ Students’ Preparedness for the Workplace.
I have published over 104 research works since 2013 till the present, most of which are in highly cited international journals. Publishing these articles in reputable international and local journal outlets would beam the light on my recommendations in these papers which I hope will catch the attention of the relevant stakeholders.
Read also: Centre for policy research plans international conference on Africa’s sustainable development
How can academia connect more with industry such that academic researches improve industrial processes and industry fertilise academic researchers in Nigeria?
This subject of discourse has been of long existence, especially in Nigeria. Yet, we keep having it recur over and again. The challenge comes from both sides, the academia and industry.
Academia often does research that is too generic and not really creating new knowledge. We often see research works that simply re-invent the wheel, telling us what is already known. I believe that when we get research in Nigeria seriously to a point where people start publishing in high rated international journals, then the industry will value impact driven research more.
Such journals do not publish simply because you have put some effort into research, no, rather they are particular about the entire scientific procedure and the logical explanation the researcher is presenting.
To what extent is the researcher demonstrating knowledge and in-depth understanding of the existing knowledge in the research area? What new knowledge is the researcher coming with? What scientific procedure(s) is/are being employed for the investigation and how is/are this/these explained in a way that fits what the researcher is setting out to do? What industry, policy and theoretical implications is the research presenting?
These journals are very serious in their approach. Many times we hear about the argument of publishing locally. Yes, it is important. But there is also the part of becoming more serious with our local journals in ways that makes them appealing to industry. We must publish high value knowledge, proffer New knowledge and solve real time problems because some industry understands the positive impact the recommendations proposed by these researchers would have on their growth.
But again, there is the part of industry where practitioners do not generally care about funding research. Doing quality research demands a lot of money and access to resources. Industry can help to float more grants. To do this, industry needs to trust some research institutions well enough to support their drive for new knowledge.
Grants will help. Then the readiness of industry to provide researchers with knowledge is still a missing link. In my experience, I approached a company to give me access to administer research instruments in their company.
Despite proving beyond reasonable doubts about my identity and source, the response of the head of human resources was “my brother I will not allow you”. It was a major shock to me. By that response I had to change the methodology for that research. Yes, I was still able to add to knowledge but it was not from the perspective that I really wished for that study.
You are the pioneer chair of the International Centre for Policy Research and Industry Linkages (ICePRIL), what does the centre stand for?
The International Centre for Policy Research and Industry Linkages (ICePRIL) is the unit of Shaveh Consulting that is responsible for cultivating and advancing blended knowledge exchange among theorists/academia and industry practitioners for societal development and individual wellbeing. The scope of ICePRIL’s operations covers the African region and among international boundaries that support the growth of development of Africa.
Activities of ICePRIL include, organizing the International Conference on Africa’s Sustainable Development (ICASuD) which is in its 1st edition in 2021, organizing the ‘Write for Impact Challenge’ which will soon start, developing Policy papers and handling the Shaveh Consulting Journal Publications that will be tailored to suit international standards.
What are some of the Centre’s milestone achievements?
ICePRIL is a recently founded arm of Shaveh Consulting. The first major assignment of the Centre is the organization of the 1st International Conference on Africa’s Sustainable Development (ICASuD) 2021.
So far, the results have been remarkable with submissions coming from international academics, both Nigerian and indigenes from other African Countries. The Speakers that we have thus far are also persons of international profile.
ICePRIL is organising its first International Conference on Africa’s Sustainable Development (ICASuD) 2021, how would this be different from other conferences that tend to be talk shows?
The 1st International Conference on Africa’s Sustainable Development (ICASuD) 2021 Organizing Committee established from the onset a few target for the Conference. We also decided to be very deliberate about the conference being a platform for academia, policymakers and industry professionals to share best practices, exchange new ideas and promote international partnership and cooperation.
We are very conscious about ensuring that the Conference produces a communique that will be published in the dailies, especially through support that we received from such reputable publishers like BusinessDay Newspaper.
Then a more elaborate conference proceeding will be made available online and accessible for future reference of industry players and the academia. We have a number of international journals that are supporting the Conference already and they will be absorbing some very commendable papers from the Conference for immediate publishing.
From our side, the ICASuD 2021 will birth our model Shaveh Consulting Business Review which will be an industry focused publication, rather than the traditional academic style of publishing. From some very valuable papers that will be presented at the Conference, we will publish briefs/papers that will be appealing to industry Practitioners and policy makers.
What are some of the barriers to sustainable wealth creation in Africa?
Africa is generally suffering from a lack of institutional support that allows innovation to thrive. Where society is not designed to ensure innovation, in the 21st century, struggles and mediocre existence will prosper.
Our government must be deliberate about ensuring that Universities are funded in ways that allow them to fund new ideas from students. We have bright minds in Africa. We must empower NGOs to establish competitions that can be funded and developed into real time corporate organizations. For example, I have a formula for what I call exponential economic wealth generation (EEWG) for Nigeria. Most dealers in Computer Village and Alaba International Markets in Lagos operate within the confines of our informal market.
Yet, they are importers of knowledge products from different countries. More interesting is the fact that Nigeria can become a producer of these knowledge products if only we empower our economic system by a simple model to become a producing state.
Using the entrepreneurship programme that is currently being run by Covenant University as an example, this effect can be better organized to ensure that students across disciplines are clustered around research projects that invent a product and eventually commercialize it. This may be the beginning of another Silicon Valley Project in Nigeria.
The end result of this model is that Companies will be formed and the students will graduate not only with certificates but as a management team over a company that is actually into the production of high-technology knowledge outputs. Multiply this model across Universities in Nigeria over a period of years, say 7 to 15 years, and what we will have is a total eradication of the deception of giving out loans to graduates to buy tricycles, grinding machine for pepper and the likes.
We will achieve dramatic reduction in unemployment because the youths are already employed and have become employers. The Coordinating principals will simply be the Universities’ leadership under the monitoring of the NUC and Ministry of Education. There will be a total systems thinking of the entire procedure in a highly digitalized reporting systems for transparency. Regardless of the fear with corruption, we can make it work if we are sincere about it.
How would these conferences on Africa’s sustainable development make a difference?
The ICASuD 2021 is among the very first Nigerian Conference that will be launched from a private operator, especially with an academic background, yet attempting to consciously bridge academic-industry-policymakers.
Our sincere goal is to make a difference in achieving a truly sustainable society in which home grown knowledge can reposition Africa as a globally competitive region. The theme is quite apt Africa’s Economy and Sustainable Development from a Multidimensional and Multicultural Perspective.
We are particular about addressing Africa’s issues from a socio-economic-political perspective with a view of talking about the real issues without politicizing anything.
We want to know what we should do to move society forward and help people live better. We do not just want expressions of grammar but real details that are relevant to the times. So, speakers are carefully selected to ensure that these purposes are fulfilled.
Covenant University seems to be pioneering a number of initiatives that prepare graduates for life after school, briefly highlight some of these.
Covenant University is founded upon a philosophy of empowering youths not just by bringing them to the point of knowing but helping to see reality in the knowledge. By that I mean what can be done with knowledge and going ahead to do it.
So, in Covenant University there are a number of tailor-made courses like the Entrepreneurship Development Studies (EDS), Total Man Concept (TMC), Diploma in Leadership Development (DLD) course among others.
Before graduation, final year student are exposed to an intensive programme that ensures that they are ready to fit into society as change agents, it is called the Toward a Total Graduate (TTG). These programmes address different issues. The EDS Course which I am actively involved in is offered across all levels from 100 levels to PhD.
The goal is to ensure that students are trained to see opportunities in problem and innovate to beat barriers. All these are coupled with the University’s Core Value of Spirituality, Integrity, Possibility Mentality, Capacity Building, Responsibility, Discipline and Sacrifice.
So, you will discover that in Covenant University, the Spiritual focus guides everything that happens around us. So, the high profile Faculty and Staff base are well prepared to support the growth of students and nurture them as valuable change agents to society.
Why should anyone care about your forthcoming conference?
As earlier mentioned ICASuD 2021 is a value adding Conference both to researchers, Industry Professionals, Policymakers, Entrepreneurs, Investors, Students and other start-up champions.
The Conference will be a platform for various socio-economic actors to network. Exhibitors also have the physical and virtual platform opportunities to showcase their products, not only to a Nigerian audience but to our global audience that will be attending both physically and virtually. All Covid-19 protocols are sure to be observed.