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Knowledge management competences, exporting and productivity: uncovering African paradoxes

Ferran Vendrell-Herrero (Birmingham Business School, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK)
Christian K. Darko (Birmingham Business School, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK)
Pervez Ghauri (Birmingham Business School, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK)

Journal of Knowledge Management

ISSN: 1367-3270

Article publication date: 25 January 2019

Issue publication date: 16 January 2020




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.


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.


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.


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.



The authors acknowledge the comments received from two anonymous reviewers and from the attendants to the 58th European Regional Science Association annual meeting (Cork, Ireland). Ferran Vendrell-Herrero acknowledges support from the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 - Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions project “MAKERS: Smart Manufacturing for EU Growth and Prosperity.”


Vendrell-Herrero, F., Darko, C.K. and Ghauri, P. (2020), "Knowledge management competences, exporting and productivity: uncovering African paradoxes", Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 24 No. 1, pp. 81-104.



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