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IB for the Brave New World: Future and Challenges

I had the honour to moderate a session at the Academy of International Business MENA chapter conference in Rabat, Morocco held at the African Business School. The members of the panel were special because each of them had helped grow AIBMENA since I founded it in 2009. Both Prof. Tim Devinney and Prof. Lilac Nachum were participants in the early days of MENA supporting us in panels. Prof. Pervez Gauri was part of the AIB Board that voted our chapter into existence and Prof. Bill Newburry and I were chapter chairs trying to lobby for emerging markets.


The purpose of the AIB Fellows panel is to share and provoke thought on research scholarship and its applicability to the MENA region. There is an opportunity for scholars from the MENA region to work with the larger AIB community to create shared teaching resources and research content that illuminate the way businesses (should) operate. Often the opportunities and challenges of these countries in terms of the global market are misrepresented or underrepresented. MENA is a historically ancient part of the world and one of the most crisis prone regions. Yet has always been a gateway, part of ancient trade routes or a knowledge capital. Morocco is currently the gateway to Africa and from the UAE you can access 1/3 of the world’s population in less than four hours.


I began the session by asking:



Prof. Pervez brough up the topic of sustainability, a topic he began his career on. He told us he never wanted to work as an academic but an early career grant and the ability to travel with a low teaching load changed his mind. He did his PhD from Uppsala, Sweden, moving from Pakistan. He choose his topic as he was struck by the inequality present in the world. The picture he showed us was of a rubbish dump with rag pickers. The problem he said is that to solve such problems we cannot do it alone, you need MNEs, Governments and Civil society. This topic is his passion topic and he has been working on it since the Millennium Goals. He told us in places where there was no quantitative data he used qualitative or exploratory research – for example, 40 interviews with multiple stakeholders. So, his advice was don't let data (or lack of data) stop you.


Prof. Lilac, focussed on the potential of Africa’s agriculture business. She highlighted that this was now her passion project because there was so much Africa could do. She went out of her way to conduct interviews, often with top managers (which she felt was easier to meet in more developed markets). She referred us to huge data sets that we as IB scholars underutilize and pointed us in those directions. Lilac is in Africa on a Fulbright Scholarship. She felt for Africa they needed three things: scale, upgrading and exporting. She highlighted the fact that African farms are by far the smallest in the world and by consolidation, they could scale up. By moving up the value chain from commodity produce to value added, they could lift the economic contribution. Lastly by exporting, they could leverage the advantage of 55 countries, and become a source continent to others. Lilac actually asks the question, should be have new theories to better understand the phenomena of emerging markets when old theories do not fit?


Prof. William (Bill) Newburry spoke about reputation issues firms face in emerging markets. Bill told us he was inspired by IB because his aunt used to have a travel agency and the early exposures to places peaked his interest. While he started initially looking at corporate reputation, an early reviewer comment helped him refocus on Latin America as an emerging market as it coincided with a career move. Reputation is an important topic as it is a perception. Firms need to understand the reputation of country location choices. Bill highlighted the importance of being culturally sensitive to the location when pursuing academic problems of interest and also reiterated that you need to collaborate with people who had cultural sensitivity and work with partners on the ground when researching topics in international business.


Prof. Tim Devinney spoke about IB and policy and pushed back from the opening slide asking the question, Do We Really Need ‘New’ Thinking? Often, researchers think a problem is new but it is really an old one and if they had looked as historical literature, they would find it was an old problem disguised as a new one. He felt very strongly as social scientist, our job was to take complex things and simplify science. We can’t find solutions if every problem is unique. I agree. Often, we are at the fundamental level dealing with human nature. He spoke about how he got into research and how he focuses on projects because he loves the problem. So publishing was not the first thought but solving the problem was. That was his passion. He did say the concept of academic freedom something we need to consider in context  as we are beholden to our stakeholders and often it is where the university gets its funding.


The panel was asked should we change our teaching – Yes they said. Focus on current knowledge, prepare our students to be resilient, use project based learning….and experiential learning.


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