Ravi Shah on Co-Founding GMC Kenya & Why More Systems Like GMC Should Be Put In Place To Ensure Job Readiness

Ravi Corporate Shoot

With an enormous number of students being subjected to the numerous challenges facing our higher learning institutions, more and more graduates come out of university half baked and barely prepared to face the job market.

Studies show that most employers find it hard to recruit into their organizations and companies because most three quarters of the applications they receive don’t have the required skills for recruitment.

What Kenya’s next generation needs is opportunities that would enable them to develop their skills, put them in situations that will enable them think critically in their businesses & places of work and most of all, have leaders who will push them to utilize and grow their skills in the workplace.

I talked to Ravi Shah, Co-Founder of the Global Management Challenge – Kenya Chapter and Managing Director of Greener Pastures Ltd, a human capacity development firm based in Nairobi and host of the Global Management Challenge (GMC) in Kenya.

The Global Management Challenge is the world’s largest management and strategy competition and has been running since 1980. The competition provides an avenue for young people to learn from and inspire each other even as they gear up for the job market.

What’s unique about GMC is it offers an alternativeplatform, where the theory of the classroom and the rigidity of the office is replaced with an environment where young men and women can learn from each other in simulations that mirror the real world.

I spoke to Ravi to get to know more about GMC, why students should participate in the competitions and what should be done to change the landscape of business in Kenya:

What is the GMC competition about?

The GMC is a management simulation that gives an experience to participants in managing a business virtually. It is open to anyone and participants need to form teams of 3 to 5 people. Teams are provided with a scenario of a manufacturing company and have to strategize on how to run the business. Teams compete over several rounds, including a national final before a winner is determined. The winning team proceeds to an International Final and the next Finals are in Dubai, UAE in April 2018.

Why did you think of founding GMC Kenya? How has that experience been so far?

There are 2 founders of GMC Kenya, Asim Shah and myself. We had researched the challenges that companies were having in Nairobi regarding human capital, and Asim floated the idea of something he participated when he was studying his undergraduate degree in the UK. This was the GMC; and so we made a business model and examined the factors of what would be required for it to be launched in Kenya.

It has been challenging as there hasn’t been anything like the GMC launched in Kenya, and so it takes time for the GMC to gain a following. However, with strong use of social media and an alumnus that like the GMC, we have grown the GMC from 24 to 41 to 112 teams, impacting on approximately 750+ participants.

Why should students (and those not in school) participate in the competitions?

Students can use the competition as a way of applying the theory they study via a practical platform and to actually experience what it takes to manage a business. For non-students, they can gain unique skills in business, which they might not get in their day-to-day jobs.

Anyone that has a business idea and wants to test out what it takes to run a business could participate in the GMC to understand the impact of their decisions without affecting their savings. For both students & non-students, they have the opportunity to learn from their experience without affecting the real world and the winners gain international exposure where they can network with other countries & professionals.

So far, how has the competition influenced you as a co-founder?

It has opened up my eyes to the lack of experience that young people get in Kenya before gaining full-time employment and why that needs addressing on a larger scale. The disconnect between the education system and what employers look for is now being addressed through a variety of platforms both by government & private sector.

In the business world, it has made me realize that firms in Kenya vary vastly, especially in terms of who makes decisions within businesses.

The youth in this country, and also in majority parts of the world lack employment and one of the reasons for this is lack of proper skills taught in institutions to help them in acquiring jobs.

Do you think that this competition has helped your alumni in terms of gaining experience and in your own perspective, what do you think should be done to help the majority of youth, especially the underprivileged?

Yes, most definitely. We have alumni now at several corporate and private firms, namely PWC, Deloitte, Tarpo Industries and DumaWorks. I believe the government has initiated more technical and vocal education training, which can help all youth that do not pursue university education or have not completed secondary schooling. The larger industrial companies can do more in providing industrial apprenticeship schemes with assistance from government.

There are very few universities or colleges that get assistance from the business community in devising programs that combine both theory & practical experience, especially for the underprivileged. This also requires the CUE to allow for such a scenario; so different cogs of the wheel need to cooperate together.

What are some of the biggest lessons you have learnt during the period of the competitions, both during and after the competitions?

What was difficult to tell was in what way we would impact on future customers of the GMC. I don’t think either Asim or I could have imagined the different ways in which people have felt about the GMC. We’ve had great feedback, but there are things, which we experienced with marketing in Kenya and in hindsight were good learnings for us.

Also, listening to customers and how to handle any challenges have been hugely important for how to improve the GMC. We had to build our own database and registration app, so we had to invest in making the right infrastructure to make sure our participants have a seamless process when registering.

We have had several alumni that have given excellent feedback, but I shall highlight two recent experiences from Wambui Kuria & Silas K Bungey.

Silas – “GMC was never a part of my life until I saw its poster at a notice board at Kenyatta University. The mention of the words management and strategy on the poster sparked an interest in me. For a long time I knew I wanted to end up in management, have a seat at the table and make impactful decisions, but I never got a platform to practice this. GMC had come at just the right time.

We later formed team Gladiators and participated in the GMC. Throughout the challenge, I realized that this was an avenue for growth and self-learning, more like experiential learning. Our team sailed through the nationals and eventually became 8th best internationally…my “Aha moment”.

GMC was so profound in my work life, so much that coming back into the country, my bosses gave me more managerial responsibilities and I delivered beyond expectation. Participating in GMC was the best decision I ever made. My career is without doubt, on a rising trajectory and I couldn’t be more proud. GMC has taught me that eventually what matters most, is taking the initiative and while at it, be the very best!”

Wambui – For her, GMC was a discovery process. “That was one of the things that came out – discovery. The other thing that really dawned on me was the importance of teamwork. We were working, going to school…everyone was busy, but if you missed meetings you were fined and this made us more consistent. We would also reward ourselves; one time when we made a particularly good decision, we went for a hike to Mt. Kilimanjaro. That made me realize that I would want to work for a company where I work hard, but my needs as an individual are also met.”
“It is one thing to be intelligent, and a completely different thing to know how to work with people,” Wambui continued. “If I had done the GMC before I started working, I would probably have approached things differently in my job, as there was a disconnect between me and my team. I excelled at my job, but my issue was people. We weren’t syncing and seeing the same vision.” The GMC competition allowed Wambui to work in a team and build a shared vision. “Even within departments in one company, sometimes people have different visions. In GMC, the competition is not just about an immediate reward such as a monthly salary. Even if you know some of these things from school, selling your ideas and vision to a team is what really drives success.”

From your experience in the competitions as you interacted with other individuals from different countries, what do you think should be done to change the landscape of businesses in Kenya?

It would be great if the Ministry of Education to take note of what we’re trying to do, along with the lobby group Kenya Association of Manufacturing. Politics affects too much of Kenyan business life, and so that requires some change. We’re in a bit of an uncertain period because of the repeat elections, and so politics needs to be kept separate from business.

Getting support from firms in Kenya takes time, and so a platform or media outlet that regularly informs the public about startups can help. There are many people in Kenya see a business that someone has started and think they can do it themselves, thus not supporting the entrepreneurs that are first movers. Everybody is smart, but few like to risk working with new firms because of trust, and so it becomes a challenge to gain their support.

This year’s competition is on! The registration deadline is on Friday the 13th of October 2017!

For more information, visit www.gmckenya.com/2017-2018-competition/

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