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Neema Robert Towo: My PhD in Development Finance journey

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  • March 15,2021
  • Tags Stellenbosch, business school, PhD, doctorate, Development Finance, Africa, sustainability, industrialisation

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Dr Neema Robert Towo completed her PhD in Development Finance at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB). She takes us through her journey – from her initial inspiration, towards the abstract and findings of her doctoral thesis.

It all started in 2014 when I attended a training on Industrial Competitiveness, which was conducted by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) in Tanzania. The end of that training was the beginning of my sustained curiosity on the performance of developing economies in the industrialisation move. A few weeks later, I was contracted to work with the Industrial Intelligence Unit of the country as a national industrial expert, and for approximately three years when I was there, I developed a profound interest in the field.

Once, I read the Industrial Development Reports (IDR) by UNIDO of 2013 and 2016, and among the many things, the need of developing countries to invest in human capital as a take-off towards desired economy structural change through industrialisation, caught my attention. I thought of a country like Tanzania where the education and training sector is among the top priority backed by the existing policies and significant amount of budget directed towards it. I needed to find answers if the progressing efforts on developing the human capital are administered in a right way considering the demand. That was the beginning of my PhD journey.

I needed to find answers if the progressing efforts on developing the human capital are administered in a right way considering the demand. That was the beginning of my PhD journey.

An award from the Graduate School scholarship to pursue doctoral studies in Development Finance at the University of Stellenbosch Business School was a ladder towards the answers I needed, and the catalyst for persistent sense in the field of development finance, economy structural change and impact evaluation. More questions advanced during this period of COVID-19 pandemic; should developing economies continue to set human capital development as their focal point or start transitioning on technology capabilities?

An award from the Graduate School scholarship to pursue doctoral studies in Development Finance… was a ladder towards the answers I needed, and the catalyst for persistent sense in the field of development finance, economy structural change and impact evaluation.

My PhD thesis was centred on human resource development practices, to evaluate the progressing effect on the firm performance as summarised in the abstract below:

Industrialisation is among the recent key economic moves for most African countries to maximise productivity and create sustainable jobs. Countries design policies to strategically invest in human resources through different practices, one being training. Since countries use their scarce finances to develop their human capital, it is necessary to evaluate the progress in the process for review purposes.

Industrialisation is among the recent key economic moves for most African countries to maximise productivity and create sustainable jobs.

The study was undertaken to observe training effect on firm performance considering the employees’ quality defined by education level, its effectiveness in relation to existing needs and employers’ perception and understanding the causes of effect variation across firms.

While a systematic moderation model was used to analyse the interaction effect of human capital sources on firm performance measures, a moderated parallel mediation model was employed to realise the effectiveness of the conducted training through matching the demanded and supplied skills. Finally, a qualitative analysis was done using the firms’ top managers and employees’ responses on the viability of training as a human capital development strategy for firm performance.

The results show for a positive magnitude to be realised from training, there should be inputs from other human capital sources such as education. It was also established that the supplied skills should match the existing needs among the key success factors of training effectiveness. The variation of training effects across firms could happen due to the customised training policy, the need assessment process, the effectiveness success factors and managers’ willingness to change.

As a contribution to the theory and so for practical adoption, once effective training exists, one can continue arguing about the effect of training on the firm’s performance. This should be viewed as a two-stage training effect analysis. Monitoring and evaluation of training initiatives should be done regularly, not only at the firm level, but also at a national level for adjusting the strategies employed. The evaluation should consider process analysis for the decision-makers to understand which areas requires extra attention.

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