Experts and stakeholders in the project management ecosystem have said that diversity, inclusion, and collaboration are some of Africa’s leading catalysts for economic growth.

This was the highlight of the first day of the 2022 Project Management Institute (PMI) Africa Conference in Lagos.

George Asamani, MD: sub-Saharan Africa at PMI, said: “Countries, companies and communities who succeed do so by applying the practice of project management. In the new normal, when the resources are stretched, project management becomes even more critical to maximise return on investment and deliver results.”

Founder of SHEngineers, and senior civil engineer, Innocentia Mahlangu, emphasised the need for organisations to reform their workplace policies to reflect diversity and inclusivity during her closing keynote talk.

In her address themed ‘Boosting the role of women in Africa’s project economy’, she remarked that, like many technical professions, project management still remains male-dominated.

Citing an article she co-authored in Financial Times, she said, “by 2030, there will be a global demand for about 25-million project professionals.”

Reflecting the sentiments of UN Women, she pointed out that gender equality is one of the best ways of solving some of these 21st-century challenges.

“Women are not only more affected by these problems, but they have ideas and leadership to solve them. Gender discrimination which is still prevalent not only holds too many women back but also the world. Inclusion is not only a human resource or company policy issue. It’s an opportunity for new ideas and leadership styles to emerge and solve our current challenges to make the world a better place.

“There are conscious biases and stereotypes which may hamper opportunities for women to take up careers in the project economy. Diverse teams and inclusive environments produce positive results. We must reflect the people we deliver projects for,” she said.

While speaking on the theme “Achieving Organisational Strategic Objectives Through Project Portfolio Management (PPM),” Taopheek Babayeju, CEO iCentra identified bad execution as a leading cause of failure of many organisations and projects.

“At the project level, all you try to do is to do the work right. Ensure that timelines are followed, and the costs are controlled. At the portfolio level, what organisations do to succeed is to do the right work by selecting their priorities. This is where organisations fail. No organisation has infinite resources. You are always struggling with what is right; what is going to align with the strategic objectives of that organisation,” he observed.

During his talk, Paul Omugbe, president of the PMI Nigeria chapter and business director of Astridia Global, pointed out the role that agility plays in a dynamic and volatile work environment.

“As a project manager, you have to be able to deal with the changes both outside and within the project that you are working on. You have to be able to adapt to change in your environment.”

While mulling the ways of transforming challenges into opportunities, Ella Naiman, partner of Empower, and also the co-founder of Generation Empower and president of the PMI Tanzania Chapter, observed that the current world of work is complex and diverse. For her, organisations need to be more inclusive, acquire people skills and manage varied perspectives.

“To have a diverse team means more innovation and creativity, setting the stage for many more interesting changes. However, the challenge on the flip side is that we have these different perspectives that sometimes can cause tension. In terms of my experience, it is really about understanding and hearing different views, adapting and learning how to integrate.”

Experts at the conference agreed that the government has a role to play in collaboration. If a private company is successful in its project, it will improve the country’s economy. Hence, the government should be inclusive in the process of making legislation by adopting a collaborative approach with the stakeholders, including the community where projects are domiciled. In addition, the panellists pointed out that influencing government policy, personal development, and citizen education are great goals toward a better project economy in Africa.