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Forget dusty textbooks! Henley Business School Africa has launched a novel research magazine that power packs the school’s research insights from the past year into an easy-to-digest magazine format designed to support better business thinking and decision-making across business, government and society.

Research is the engine of innovation, powering economies, innovation and progress, but all too often academic insights are shut up in libraries or buried deep in the pages of a journal that sit behind a paywall. This stymies its impact. 

‘If we want research to change the world, then we need to make it accessible, relevant, and useful,’ argues Jon Foster-Pedley, dean and director of Henley Business School Africa. 

This is the guiding principle behind a new research magazine – Innovations, Provocations & Explanations –  launched by Henley this month. Designed for busy business people and executives on the move who have limited time but prize evidence-based insights to support their thinking and decision-making, the publication packages the school’s recent research insights in a concise and easy-to-digest format.

‘Access to knowledge is just as important an issue in a growing economy as access to education – and a business school like Henley has an important role to play in advancing both,’ says Foster-Pedley. 

‘We didn’t want our research output to live in an archive and be debated only among those in the know. Our puzzles and insights are intended to be shared widely and discussed not as valid theories but as actionable solutions. If readers are interested in going more deeply into a particular topic, they can scan the QR code or open a link to get the full story.’

Transforming perspectives, encouraging debate, and changing lives

While the content of Henley’s research magazine is high-level and intended not to bend the reader’s mind out of shape with intangible concepts and dense theory, the research underpinning it is anything but superficial.

‘This work is world-class in approach and internationally relevant, and adheres to robust research principles, rigorous methodologies and evidence-based determinations,’ says Professor Danie Petzer, head of research at Henley Business School Africa. 

Henley is putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to research, adds Prof Petzer. Over the past few years, the school has dramatically ramped up its research output, in part as a response to a very real need on the continent. Africa continues to lag behind the rest of the world in terms of global research output – producing less than 1% of the world’s research, despite facing disproportionate challenges associated with climate change, inequality, poverty, and geo-political instability.

Recognising that accessible research should not only appeal to seasoned academics but to business leaders, executives, trend analysts, policymakers and commentators, Henley faculty are collaborating with business to ask pertinent, context-driven questions that don’t brush inconvenient truths under the carpet. This opens up a wealth of areas for study and examination while also helping to grow and develop Africa for the betterment of all. 

Research featured in the magazine include insights into the state of ESG integration in South African listed companies (Morais et al, 2023); a case study by Lorenzo Messina exploring the importance of a strong risk culture (Messina, 2022) in the context of South Africa’s fight against corruption; a collaboration between Henley Africa’s Prof Petzer and Vickey de Villiers, together with Professor Marianne Matthee from GIBS and Stellenbosch University’s Dr Stefanie Kühn, focused on South Africa’s fresh fruit industry and how to optimise export performance (Petzer et al., 2023); and a white paper on the role of virtual reality in business education (Claassen & Bouwer, 2023). Additionally, the white paper, ‘Understanding the land title, tenure tightrope: Is technology the solution to Africa’s complex land ownership challenges?’ from Henley Africa Executive Fellow Dr Mélani Prinsloo perfectly illustrates the complexities of shoehorning Western “best practice” into a complex system without due regard for traditional means of determining land ownership and tenure. 

‘Business does not exist in a vacuum; it is intrinsically linked to the success or failure of the society in which it operates. This is why Henley prioritises relevant, real-world research designed to evoke change and transformation based on facts, expert opinion and a fervent desire to solve African and global challenges,’ says Foster-Pedley. 

‘Our focus is not to provide a showcase to massage academic egos but to make an impact in the world. Research should be about transforming perspectives, encouraging debate, and changing lives.’

Download a free copy of the Henley research magazine here

A unique model that disrupts traditional approaches to research

When it comes to research, Henley Africa has an obvious advantage in that it is part of the University of Reading, an international institution that has been recognised for its pioneering research in areas that matter, including climate change and AI. Henley Business School itself has campuses in the UK, Europe, and Asia, giving it access to a global network of teaching and learning that is the envy of many other business schools. 

However, as a private higher education institution, Henley Africa does not have a large, full-time faculty base or any government subsidies to drive research, a situation that has compelled it to look beyond the traditional academic structures to work more with consultants and practitioners and a variety of funding partners in the production of thought leadership and new knowledge. It’s a working model that could be adopted by both private and public institutions across the continent looking to dial up their research and make a more relevant contribution to the local business context.

‘By welcoming a broader pool of researchers into our orbit and providing the right support to innovative thinkers, we create opportunities for research, we bring new ideas from the coalface of management to the broader market more quickly and inspire new solutions,’ says Prof Petzer.

‘Ultimately, we are helping to build the pipeline of researchers that the continent urgently needs and providing actionable knowledge straight into the boardroom. Best of all, this model is the opposite of elitist.’

Foster-Pedley adds that in a country like South Africa that is struggling to produce the sort of talent required to affect the level of change being demanded by the economy and pressing social challenges, it is vital to critically question the structure and approach to education in general and to debate the morality and focus of research that does not seek to solve social ills and advance prosperity. 

‘When you start to ask questions it becomes clear that the outdated industrial revolution-era system of education is unable to keep pace with the human capital and research needs of a changing world. We need to change and adapt and we need to do it faster than ever before.

‘To quote African anthropologists Artwell Nhemachena and Munyaradzi Mawere: “Africa cannot afford professors who enjoy burying their heads in the hot sands of the tropics: it is simply too costly for intellectual progress on a continent that has already suffered, for long, the travails of cargo cult mentalities.”

‘African business schools need to do better, and we are.’Download a free copy of the Henley research magazine here: https://content.henleysa.ac.za/research-magazine-innovations-provocations-explanations-1

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