Thriving Business for Thriving Communities in Africa

Play Video about WDI's 30th anniversary dinner celebration featuring the Ralph J Gerson Distinguished Lecture speaker Magatte Wade

Click the image to watch the recording of the Ralph J. Gerson Distinguished Lecturer Magatte Wade.

African Entrepreneur and Advocate Magatte Wade Speaks at This Year’s Ralph J. Gerson Distinguished Lecture

The William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan (WDI) celebrated its 30th anniversary with the in-person return of the Ralph J. Gerson Distinguished Lecture. The Nov. 10 evening brought together members of the WDI community for a celebratory dinner and moving speech from Magatte Wade, entrepreneur and advocate for African dignity and prosperity.

The lecture is named in honor of the Institute’s longest serving board member, Ralph J. Gerson. Gerson led Guardian Industries Corporation in multiple roles for years, and he currently serves on philanthropic and policy boards across Michigan and the U.S. He is now the Director of the William Davidson Foundation.

Wade kicked off her talk by highlighting the connection she felt with WDI. “When I discovered WDI, I thought, ‘Where have you been my whole life? Maybe I should have started with you,’” she said. Wade is a strong advocate for easing and boosting private business, particularly small- and medium-sized businesses, through economic freedom in Africa. Her work aligns closely with the mission at WDI: equipping economic decision-makers in emerging countries with the tools of commercial success.

Wade, who was born in Senegal and later moved to Europe and the United States, spent years of her life wondering why communities in Africa were suffering from poverty and those in other parts of the world were thriving economically. Eventually, she concluded that the complex and detrimental business policies in many African nations were stunting their economic growth — and she began to advocate for smoother, easier, more functional business opportunities across the continent.

I can’t think of a better ambassador for the mission and the vision of the Institute, which is the power of business to deliver on economic growth and social freedom.

“I can’t think of a better ambassador for the mission and the vision of the Institute, which is the power of business to deliver on economic growth and social freedom,” said WDI President Paul Clyde, as he welcomed her to give her “The Heart of the Cheetah: Entrepreneurship & Prosperity in Africa” talk. Describing her impact and connection to WDI, Clyde explained that Wade is a “tireless supporter of individuals and their ability to create economic value when given the opportunity to do so.”

After detailing the many-layered difficulties that arise when doing business in an African nation from strict government policies, challenging taxes and complex business systems, Wade asked the crowd whether they would choose to do business in a place that created roadblocks or one that allowed for a smooth path. That question, she said, provided the answer she’d been searching for all along. “At the end of the day, you are poor because you have no money. There’s not enough money to take care of your primary needs. You have no money because you have no income. What is the source of income for most of us? Jobs. Where do jobs come from? The private sector. And so don’t you then think that we should make it easy for businesses to be born and thrive.”

This conclusion set her on her path to boost economic freedom and business opportunities across the continent, through her own enterprises, speaking engagements, policy advocacy and powerful global fellowships. Her TED Talk, “Why it is too hard to start a business in Africa — and how to change it” has been viewed by over 600,000 people. She’s a Young Global Leader with the World Economic Forum at Davos, a TED Global Africa Fellow, and one of Forbes’ “10 Youngest Power Women in Africa.”

Wade has built multiple businesses in Africa inspired by diverse African traditions, including her most recent endeavor, She urges the global community to shift its perspective from aiding African communities. Instead of creating a system that relies on aid, she tells global consumers to “buy African products made in Africa by Africans.” Her point: let business thrive, and Africa will thrive.

Wade has seen the impact her businesses and entrepreneurial mindset have had on herself and others. Her manufacturing-focused businesses have helped boost rural communities’ manufacturing facilities. Meanwhile, Wade continues to advocate for policy changes at the national and local levels through groups like the Atlas Network’s Center for African Prosperity. Still, she knows there’s more room for growth.

“Whatever we’ve been able to accomplish, it would be multiplied by the right business environment,” Wade said. “At the end of the day, I believe that business is the greatest force of good.”

WDI president Paul Clyde speaking with guests.
Michigan Ross Dean Sharon Matusik speaking with WDI board member Ralph Gerson.
Author and entrepreneur, Magatte Wade, presenting at the WDI 30th Anniversary Celebration.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell speaking with WDI Board Member Ralph Gerson and Ross Dean Sharon Matusik.
Ralph Gerson listening to speaker Magatte Wade.
Michigan Ross Dean Sharon Matusik during WDI's 30th anniversary celebration.
Guest speaker Magatte Wade with U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell.
Left to right: WDI President Paul Clyde, Michigan Ross Dean Sharon Matusik, guest speaker Magatte Wade and WDI Board Member Ralph Gerson.
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Winners announced in the 2022 Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Case Competition

Sponsored by U-M’s Ross School of Business and WDI Publishing, the contest broadens the global collection of Cases focused on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion 

This year’s second annual DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) Global Case Writing Competition again focused on improving and understanding DEI in the global workplace and attracted nearly double the number of case submissions compared with the first year. This year’s winning cases explored issues including minority management representation for products marketed to black consumers, neurodiversity in the workplace and challenges that women of color face in the corporate world.   

The competition is sponsored jointly by WDI Publishing and the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. For 2022, a total of 52 cases were submitted to the competition, representing authors from over 40 universities across 12 different countries. Last year’s inaugural competition drew 30 submissions received by WDI Publishing, part of the William Davidson Institute (WDI) at the University of Michigan. 

“Not only did we receive more submissions this year from around the world, but we also saw significant increases in attendance at our informational case writing webinars,” said David Wooten, Associate Dean of One-Year Masters Programs at Michigan Ross and University Diversity & Social Transformation Professor at U-M. “Additionally, this year’s submissions were of a very high quality overall and addressed broader facets of diversity such as physical disability, neurodiversity, religion, and accessibility in varied industries such as high tech, retail, academia and agribusiness.”

The winning cases from last year’s competition have already been adopted and taught at universities throughout the U.S. and beyond, said Sandra Draheim, Manager of WDI Publishing, who expects the same trend this year.  

“There’s truly a continuing and increasing global interest in the topic of DEI,” she said. “The winners reflect the many forms of DEI and how it permeates all levels and departments of an organization.”

 All submitted cases were reviewed using a double-blind process to narrow down the field to a select group of finalists. Those cases were then reviewed and ranked by four finalist judges, who are experts in DEI, case publishing and business education: Kim Eric Bettcher, Director of Policy and Program Learning at the Center for International Private Enterprise; John Lafkas, Senior Editor at Harvard Business Publishing; Greg Merkley, Director of Case Publishing for the Kellogg School of Management; and Kavitha Prabhakar, Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer for Deloitte US.

The winning three cases, along with honorable mentions and other exceptional work, will be published by WDI Publishing and available for adoption by academic institutions and businesses around the globe. Additionally, the first-place winner was awarded a $10,000 prize, the second-place winner earned $5,000, and the third-place winner received $2,500.

These will serve as a critical tool in preparing and enabling business leaders to challenge the status quo, transform long-held beliefs and behaviors, and build a more equitable future.

Case Studies as Real-Life Preparation

A case study is an academic practice, but the situations within them are very much rooted in the realities of business. Based on actual dilemmas, these cases elicit layers of practical quandaries, questions and solutions.

“The challenges that these business cases present are thought-provoking, forward-looking, and very representative of the complexity inherent in DEI efforts,” said Prabhakar. “These will serve as a critical tool in preparing and enabling business leaders to challenge the status quo, transform long-held beliefs and behaviors, and build a more equitable future.”

Case Writing Competition Winners

First Place

Navigating SheaMoisture through a Racial Awakening: Cara Sabin’s Authentic Leadership

Second Place

Perks or Rights? Accommodating Neurodiversity in the Unionized Workplace

Third Place

How Can Shoppers Market Create an Inclusive Environment for Women of Color?

First Place: Navigating SheaMoisture through a Racial Awakening: Cara Sabin’s Authentic Leadership

In a timely and powerful case study, the winners of this year’s competition tackled questions of consumer connection, branding, diverse leadership and racial equity. Stephanie Robertson, Assistant Dean of Community Engagement and Inclusion, and Jeremy Petranka, Associate Dean of Quantitative Programs, both at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, shared the story of Cara Sabin and SheaMoisture’s journey to more authentic representation and relationships.

At the height of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, consumers and digital advocates called out the disconnect between the white leadership at Unilever, which owned SheaMoisture, and the company’s mission. The winning case covers the journey of Cara Sabin, CEO of Sundial Brands, as she determines how to best respond to a crisis based on racial identity. 

Second Place: Perks or Rights? Accommodating Neurodiversity in the Unionized Workplace

One of the major benefits of this open competition is the breadth of experiences and expertise that come to the surface. While questions of DEI are ones that every business person must face, it is critical that the voices of those most impacted by these concerns are amplified. This year’s second-place winner did just that.

“As a person with autism, we often find that our stories and perspectives are filtered through a neurotypical lens,” said Katherine Breward, second place winner and Associate Professor in Human Resources at the University of Winnipeg. “That is one reason why this competition was so exciting for me. It was an honor to be able to tell the story of a worker with autism through the lens of an autistic perspective, one that focused on mutual misunderstanding rather than a default assumption that autistic perspectives are inherently ‘wrong’ or problematic.”

Breward’s case highlights the story of a high-performing employee with autism and her request for a disability accommodation, as well as a promotion.

Third Place: How Can Shoppers Market Create an Inclusive Environment for Women of Color?

This year’s third-place winner confronted the critical issues of DEI intersectionality in the corporate world. Author Poonam Zantye, Director of Business Strategy at Walmart, wrote a case that explored the challenges that women of color face in the workplace and challenges students to develop a multi-disciplinary strategy to address the foundation of their poor leadership representation.

Honorable Mentions: Sexual Harassment and Physical Disability

Two other cases caught the judges’ attention, and both received honorable mentions. The first, Activision Blizzard, Inc.: Facing the Call of Duty With a Laser Focus on Women, dealt with the rampant gender discrimination and sexual harassment at a popular video game company. The second, DEI at Dynamo Relations: The Challenges of Remaining an Inclusive Company, tells the story of a successful employee with a physical disability that may put him at risk during a key assignment.


While the call for DEI efforts across the business world continues to grow each year, the materials needed to teach business students these skills are lacking compared with other types of case studies. This deficit is one the WDI Publishing team is working hard to fill.

Through the DEI Global Case Writing Competition, WDI Publishing has set out to strengthen the public store of educational materials centered on this essential endeavor. In the two years of competitions, individuals and teams from around the world have submitted compelling and impactful cases that push students to expand both their acumen and empathy when grappling with complex DEI questions.

“I feel there’s still a gap in business case studies focused on diversity, equity and inclusion, so through this competition, we’re building a solid collection that the world’s business schools can adopt,”  Draheim said. “The 2023 DEI Case Writing Competition, which we plan  to launch later this year, promises to expand these educational tool sets even further.”

About WDI

At the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan, unlocking the power of business to provide lasting economic and social prosperity in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) is in our DNA. We gather the data, develop new models, test concepts and collaborate with partners to find real solutions that lead to new opportunities. This is what we mean by Solving for Business — our calling since the Institute was first founded as an independent nonprofit educational organization in 1992. We believe societies that empower individuals with the tools and skills to excel in business, in turn generate both economic growth and social freedom — or the agency necessary for people to thrive.

Developmental evaluation (DE) was created to evaluate innovative programs that operate in complex environments and are thus expected to adapt over time. The Developmental Evaluation Pilot Activity (DEPA-MERL), developed under the U.S. Global Development Lab’s Monitoring, Evaluation, Research and Learning Innovations (MERLIN) program at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), is testing the effectiveness of DE in the USAID context. The DEPA-MERL consortium consists of Social Impact (prime), Search for Common Ground (Search), and WDI. As part of the consortium, Social Impact and Search are implementing DEs while WDI is serving as an evaluator to assess the effectiveness of this approach in the USAID context.

In early 2020, USAID launched its first-ever Digital Strategy in order to align the Agency’s vision for development assistance with the world’s evolving digital landscape. USAID’s Innovation, Technology, and Research (ITR) Hub, formerly the U.S. Global Development Lab, is responsible for leading the strategy implementation. DEPA-MERL launched a new DE in mid-2020 to support up to four of the Strategy’s 15 implementation initiatives by providing insights into how the initiatives work within their teams and with each other as well as timely input for decision making. For the first time at USAID, the Developmental Evaluator is being embedded remotely into the initiatives due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The WDI team also conducted an analysis across the three DE pilots that occurred during the first five years of the MERLIN award. The report, Advancing the Use of Developmental Evaluation: A Summary of Key Questions Answered during a Multiyear Study of Developmental Evaluations Implemented at USAID, shares findings and lessons learned across the experiences to facilitate learning from the implementation of DE in the USAID context.

To learn more about the previous pilots or to access guidance the consortium has developed for organizations, managers, and evaluators that seek to implement the developmental evaluation approach please go here.

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