Sustainable Objectives

15 January 2020

Schools in Norway and Africa partner on programs designed to make supply chains more sustainable.

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Tanzania and Ethopia in Africa are among the fastest-growing economies in the world—but also among the least industrialized. Of their respective populations of 55 million and 110 million, 85 percent are farmers. Citizens in both countries lack access to sustainable food sources; healthcare; or reliable energy, transport, and waste management. They must cope with weak governance, corruption, unemployment, population growth, insecurity, droughts, and famine. In Ethiopia, only 45 percent of the population has access to electricity; in Tanzania, that number drops to 35 percent.

To address these problems, BI Norwegian Business School in Oslo, the School of Business at Mzumbe University (MU) in Tanzania, and the Business and Economics College of Jimma University (JU) in Ethiopia have created a partnership called SUSTAIN. Through the partnership, the schools will strive to improve the quality of education and research in the fields of supply chain management (SCM) and sustainable business development. These efforts will enable all three schools to work toward achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which call for the world’s institutions to work together to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.


To grow their economies, Ethiopia and Tanzania must improve their infrastructures by investing in new roads, railways, hospitals, schools, and electric plants. But to use this infrastructure effectively, both countries will need forward-looking business leaders who can help businesses deliver on their wider social responsibilities.

However, most of the local workforce hasn’t been educated with the requisite skills. A UNESCO report notes that, between 1990 and 2012, primary school enrollment in African countries more than doubled, to nearly 150 million. But higher education is still lacking. For instance, in Tanzania, youths represent more than half of the country’s total labor force, according to Emmanuel Chao of MU’s Resource and Incubation Centre. Yet more than 25 percent of those youths are not in employment, education, or training.

The situation is similar in Ethiopia, which has a young population in need of education. “Ethiopia has established 35 new universities the last 15 years,” explains Kenenisa Lemie Debela, dean of the College of Business and Economics at JU. “Senior universities serve as mentors and initially also as administrators for the new universities. Support for Jimma means indirect support for the whole country.”

Both schools are poised to train the managers who will help bring their countries economic prosperity. At MU, about 1,700 of the 10,000 students are in business; the school is known for its capacity in management, governance, and health management, but it needs development in the areas of entrepreneurship and supply chain management. In comparison, JU is Ethiopia’s largest public university, known for its strength in health education. Of its 50,000 students, 6,250 are in business.

At BI, we believe we have the resources to partner successfully with these two schools. We not only have developed research and teaching in humanitarian logistics and risk management, we have developed other long-term partnerships with schools in China and the U.S. We also have much experience setting up international exchanges and internships for our 20,000 students.

Furthermore, we can draw on the knowledge gained from Norway’s own development of sustainable incentives, business models, and physical infrastructure of recycling. Dating from the 1990s, Norway has been a pioneer of “reverse logistics”—that is, managing the lifetime supply chain for household goods. In fact, two of the BI faculty participating in SUSTAIN pursued their own PhDs in this field—I did mine on household packaging, and Bente Flygansvær did hers on electronics recycling.

Finally, SUSTAIN builds on past connections BI has made with both schools. In 2017, BI and MU collaborated on a graduate course called Doing Sustainable Business in Africa. BI became familiar with JU when JU was cooperating with the nearby University of Oslo on an initiative called Strategic and Collaborative Capacity Development in Ethiopia and Africa (SACCADE), which aimed to establish JU as a hub for health development in Africa. Because all three schools focus on delivering community- based education, we believe our approaches are complementary.


In February of 2019, SUSTAIN organized inaugural workshops in Mzumbe and Jimma. There, representatives of individual schools could get to know each other, sign a memorandum of understanding, agree on the details of student exchanges, compare academic calendars and local regulations, and organize anti-corruption workshops for faculty, students, and local stakeholders. SUSTAIN involves 21 faculty members with competencies in SCM, entrepreneurship, and sustainability. Nine are from BI and six each are from MU and JU. Administrative staff members are also involved in organizing the exchange.

In September of 2019, the first two students arrived at BI from MU for our one-term stay option. These students will spend one semester attending courses, and they will also receive their master’s thesis supervision at BI.

In the spring of 2020, the first four BI students will travel to Ethiopia and Tanzania for three to four weeks to work on their master’s projects. While at the partner schools, they will collect data in the field, participate in university activities, and be co-supervised by faculty across the three institutions. Students for one project will be concerned with improving the supply chain for mangos by reducing waste, finding new markets, and scaling up production. Those working on another project will seek ways to reduce waste and improve supply chains in the coffee production industry.

While our students are in Africa, we want them to learn as much as they can from their host countries, especially about African culture and business development. For instance, we want them to observe lifestyle and consumption patterns in Ethiopia and Tanzania, because emerging nations generally cause fewer problems with climate change and pollution than industrialized nations do.

Through SUSTAIN, we also plan to create opportunities for faculty from all three institutions to work together. For instance, in October of 2019, BI hosted faculty from MU and JU at the fourth annual International Conference of Business and Management in Emerging Markets at our school.

Such interactions will continue to be important because one of the key goals of SUSTAIN is to help the African universities develop their faculty. Even the student exchanges support this goal, because we expect some students in the program to go on to become professors. For instance, in Ethiopia, master’s students from JU are mostly recruited by the Ministry of Education to teach in the new public universities.

But the challenge is not just to develop business faculty, but to help them refresh outdated curricula. We also want to work with the African faculty to create new courses that address issues such as corruption.


Over the next five years, we expect that the collaborations enabled by SUSTAIN will have produced at least three teaching cases, one from each country; six co-authored papers; and one book. We’d also like to create an ontology—a system for categorizing a shared vocabulary and common concepts—in which students describe their exchange experiences. In those five years, we will have taught six jointly revised courses at least once, exchanged 52 master’s students, and jointly supervised six master’s projects. Small teams of faculty from each school will have developed courses in entrepreneurship, sustainable supply chain risk management, and anti-corruption.

But we also have much longer-term goals. As students in these programs gain skills in supply chain management and become ethical leaders, we expect to see both countries improve their performance on several global rankings. These include the U.N.’s Human Development Index, which tracks the life expectancies, education levels, and incomes of people in 188 countries (Tanzania currently ranks 151, and Ethiopia ranks 174). There’s also the Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index of 180 nations, where the countries are 99 and 114, respectively; and the World Bank’s Logistics Performance Index of 160 countries (61 and 125, respectively).

The SUSTAIN partnership will benefit BI as well. First, as we integrate the SDGs into the courses we develop for JU and MU, we will find new ways to make the SDGs part of our own offerings.

Second, we will develop a model for expanding the types of international agreements we maintain with other schools. We currently have close to 200 exchange agreements, but only one other one on the continent of Africa. Our hope is that we will lower the threshold for our ability to collaborate with universities in developing countries.


Although the SUSTAIN program has just gotten underway, we already have realized it’s essential to develop trust through personal interactions, which means that key parties must have the experience of working together. This requires extra funding to support travel expenses for students and faculty, as well as accommodations for participants. At BI, we have secured funding from the Norwegian Agency for International Cooperation and Quality Enhancement in Higher Education (DiKu), which will cover our travel costs of SUSTAIN through 2023.

We’ve also learned three lessons about establishing partnerships with universities in other parts of the world:

We must start with small operations such as joint modules, workshops, and seminars. We also must involve administrative staff at all partner institutions.

We must stay flexible, especially at the beginning. At the start, we must embed the activities in the structures and processes that already exist at the respective partners’ institutions.

We can develop sustainable partnerships only if all parties respond proactively to challenges and display patience, diplomacy, and sensitivity.
When we are flexible, patient, sensitive, and willing to move slowly, we can create alliances that benefit all parties—schools, faculty, students, and the very countries where we operate.

Text: Marianne Jahre is professor of logistics and supply chain management at BI Norwegian Business School in Oslo and a professor of engineering logistics at Lund University in Sweden.


This article originally appeared in BizEd.

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