The HBS “Immersive Field Course: Africa: Building Cities” is intended for students to inquire for themselves about Africa, about infrastructure, about urbanization, about economic development, and about public private partnerships. For the most part, students entering the course have little to no background in any of those areas. This means that there is an opportunity for substantial learning on their parts.
The research efforts are intended to provide two-way benefits. 40 HBS MBA students learn firsthand through their own meetings and interviews about finance, infrastructure, and urbanization issues in sub-Saharan Africa. HBS publications, in turn, help to share the promise and approaches to finance and operations in sub-Saharan Africa to a broader business community including foreign investors but also, critically, managers and leaders on the continent. Our goal is to influence practice on the continent.
The driving impetus of the work is to address three major trends in Africa (and in the world): Massive and rapid urbanization as hundreds of millions of people migrate to cities seeking opportunity; current and worsening scarcity of basic resources (not enough clean air, clean water, clean energy, food, land and too much traffic and too much garbage); and the apparent inability of national governments to invest ahead in infrastructure to mitigate the other two trends.
The approach has three components: 1) Cities, 2) Finance, and 3) Technology. The reasoning is:
a) they are the political unit that can most directly act, compared to states and national politics;
b) since investors understand city scale projects like power plants, toll roads, or water treatment; and
c) since the combined impact of urban interventions like transit, power, water, and dense real estate in concept has a cumulative benefit far greater than making such investments in a disconnected way.
Finance since the ability to match up trillions of dollars of global capital seeking yield with the needs of millions of urban consumers – addressing the “infrastructure paradox” – can be highly beneficial to investors and citizens alike.
Technology since advances in tools including by not limited to cashless payments, internet of things, ubiquitous sensors, modern filtration and PV principles, and autonomous vehicles will all have profound impacts on infrastructure planning, usage, finance, delivery, and payments in the next decade. We seek to explore those possibilities in this work.