Knowledge management competences, exporting and productivity: uncovering African paradoxes

Ferran Vendrell-Herrero, Christian Darko, Pervez N Ghauri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)
308 Downloads (Pure)


Purpose: This study aims to investigate the importance of relational and conditional knowledge by assessing how service and signaling competences affect manufacturing firms’ productivity. These relationships are explored in the context of Africa, where, paradoxically, firms selling abroad must satisfy different market demands than firms that serve only domestic markets. Design/methodology/approach: The authors draw on the World Bank Enterprise Survey to perform a cross-sectional analysis of 4,683 manufacturing firms. These surveys cover the period 2009-2017 and 35 different African countries. The authors define service competence development as co-location with knowledge-intensive business service (KIBS) firms, measured through KIBS density at city level. Signaling is measured through outward-looking competences. Findings: This paper shows that African exporters differ significantly from their non-exporting counterparts in terms of productivity and competences. External service competence generates productivity gains for exporters but has the opposite effect for non-exporters. Results consistent with previous research also show that signaling competences generate productivity gains, but the effect for firms serving domestic markets is stronger than the effect for exporting firms. The authors use paradoxes of learning to interpret these results. Research limitations/implications: This study detects nuances of the African context that increase the understanding of knowledge management in emerging markets. The findings would benefit from confirmation in a longitudinal and causal setting. Practical implications: African exporting firms should establish mechanisms to develop joint knowledge with external partners (know-with) to enhance their competitiveness, whereas African non-exporters should prioritize building knowledge credibility. Originality/value: The study develops a novel empirical approach to analyzing firm competences in Africa. It also shows that contextualization of existing knowledge management theories matters, opening a research avenue to test further existing theories in emerging economies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)81-104
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Knowledge Management
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jan 2019


  • African firms
  • Conditional knowledge
  • Contextual paradoxes
  • Knowledge-intensive business services
  • Paradoxes of learning
  • Relational knowledge

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


Dive into the research topics of 'Knowledge management competences, exporting and productivity: uncovering African paradoxes'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this