When Matt Glover traveled to Malawi in 2015, he had no idea the trip would be a transformative experience.
The tiny southeastern African country was brimming with entrepreneurs who eagerly devoured his business courses. Fueled by their passion to build a stronger economy, Matt and other educators saw the undeniable need for a college that would feed the homegrown desire to build and grow successful businesses.
A Thirst for Knowledge
Matt—a senior manager in BKD’s Jackson office—originally visited Malawi to teach a one-week intersession business course at African Bible Colleges (ABC). He’d participated in several short-term medical missions to Peru with his local church, but the Malawi trip gave him the opportunity to give back in a different way.
“I believe God gave me a unique gift in business and accounting,” Matt says. “I also have a strong belief in giving back to the church both through monetary gifts and, when applicable, time or talents.”
When he arrived, he was astonished by the amount of interest his students showed in class. Malawi has one of the lowest gross national incomes per capita in the world at only $320.
“Even a moderately successful business can easily feed 20 to 30 families directly through employment,” Matt explains. “They desperately wanted to acquire skills that allowed them to support themselves, community, and the church by running their own businesses.”
Launching a Dream
When Matt returned to the U.S., he thought about ways he could help. He connected with Jun Shiomitsu, a Japanese businessman who also taught business courses at ABC and conceived the African Business Institute(ABI).
“Jun envisioned ABI as a post-graduate program that equipped Christian business leaders in Africa,” Matt explains. “His 13 years of experience in international banking and extensive educational training gave him the drive and experience to establish a foundation for ABI’s success.”
A CPA with seven years of experience at BKD, Matt signed up to serve as the school’s financial manager and began raising funds to support its mission. He’s worked hard to connect with donors, most of whom are Christian businesspeople who share the same perspectives and vision as ABI does.
“Currently we’re operating off money raised through donations and student tuition,” he says. “We’ve raised a little over $300,000 since the beginning, which has allowed us to operate over the past four years.”
ABI officially launched as a school within ABC in January 2017, with students representing six different countries—Uganda, Malawi, Liberia, Kenya, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Experienced professors and business professionals teach two-week courses covering essential business topics.
“ABI’s vision is to raise a generation of competent, ethical business leaders in Africa,” Matt says. “Our goal is to create a generation of successful leaders known for their integrity, morals and values.”
Early in the program, instructors found that many students had been taught to memorize the correct answer instead of critically thinking through problems. Matt and the other teachers challenged students to think two steps ahead and find innovative solutions instead.
“Most students come into our program with little background in business,” says Marcelo Vieira, ABI’s vice president and programs director. “We can see a complete mindset change in relation to the possibilities creating businesses brings to them and their communities.”
The curriculum quickly clicked with students, who planned a trip to a remote fishing village during a two-week break. Using the knowledge they’d gained, they developed and taught a weekend business course to local fishermen.
“It was amazing to watch the students transform as learners and leaders through their coursework and internships,” Matt says.
Jyne Hahirwa, a 2017 ABI graduate who’s now a staff member at the school, says the university has been a turning point in her life.
“At ABI, both the staff and the students work hand in hand to achieve a common goal. Students are treated as professionals, which motivates them to know they have the abilities in themselves.”
‘Entrepreneurs & Change-Makers’
In January 2018, 33 new students began their studies at the Malawi campus. Students who graduated last year from the Ugandan campus have now launched their own businesses, and ABI staff are continuing to mentor them as they slowly grow them.
Twenty-four students graduated in December 2017, and student teams pitched their business ideas to actual investors. Some have already launched their own businesses.
One student-created business—Crystal Water Solutions—specializes in well drilling, repairs and maintenance, with hopes to expand into home water filtration operations. After acquiring a $10,000 loan and raising $500 through crowdfunding, the company incorporated and bought a drilling rig.
The college’s success and contributing role Matt has played hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“We’re so proud of Matt and how he represents his family and BKD in serving others,” says Jerry Goolsby, a partner in BKD’s Jackson office. “Matt is committed to making a real difference in peoples’ lives, and he has been successful in leveraging what he has learned at BKD to make that happen.”
Matt’s wife, Catherine, was with him every step of the way. She’ll be returning to Malawi with him in May 2018 and is excited to see the school flourish.
“This experience has been truly life-changing,” she says. “Seeing the impact ABI has made inspires me. A few passionate leaders used their knowledge to equip a community of leaders to become entrepreneurs and change-makers.”
As ABI adds startups to its portfolio, it’s looking to develop strong connections with other African businesses as well as global companies wanting to expand their presence on the continent. The school’s post-graduate program continues to grow, and its business advisory and impact funds are maturing.
Matt can’t wait to see what happens next.
“It’s been an honor and privilege to help others with my accounting training and experience,” he says. “I couldn’t be more grateful for BKD’s support, which enables me to be part of a program equipping business leaders to make a difference throughout Africa.”