In late November 2016, 90 MBA students from France’s EDHEC Business School made the five-thousand-mile trip to Cape Town, South Africa, for a week-long immersion in a unique business environment.
Offered in partnership with the University of Stellenbosch Business School, the EDHEC MBA’s international module on sustainable development delves deep into South Africa’s economic, political and cultural make-up. This year’s MBA class, visited companies, social initiatives and small-scale entrepreneurs to learn more about business in South Africa.
Among them, experienced engineer Saad Zulfiqar. After his MBA, he’s determined to test out his own business ideas and make a difference in his native Pakistan. For Saad, the South Africa trip was a source of inspiration.
“South Africa has gone through a very tough phase in its history. Yet the will to rise to the top is strong in all sections of society, and many young entrepreneurs have started initiatives for the greater good,” he says.
“South African companies are mastering the art of sustainability. They’re not only targeting the financially strong, but they’re also trying to deliver goods and services to relatively poor consumers,” he continues. “Thanks to this trip, I have already started to integrate the sustainability model into my own startup ideas.”
For Winston Green, a fellow EDHEC MBA entrepreneur starting his own big data analytics consultancy, it was the company visits that really stood out. The MBA class visited Rise Cape Town, a financial technology - fintech - startup accelerator which helps train local young people in IT.
“When you go to South Africa, you’re punched in the face with the inequality that still exists in the world,” he says. “It was really refreshing to see how businesses can drive change for social good.”
What did he gain from his first trip to South Africa? “Number one is an appreciation for social initiatives,” he says.
“Business is not just about profitability. It’s also about social impact and empowering the people around you. When I think about my own consultancy, I think about how I can bring that in and make that part of the company culture.”
Over the course of the week, EDHEC’s MBAs took the chance to visit nearby Robben Island – where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 years – and hiked up Cape Town’s iconic Table Mountain.
They learnt about black economic empowerment in South Africa, green business models, and the complexity of marketing to a diverse culture with eleven official languages.
During a visit to meet with entrepreneurs in the city’s Khayelitsha township, some students joined in with a group of kids playing a spirited game of soccer barefoot. On their last day, the entire MBA class decided to chip in and buy the kids new shoes to play in.
“It’s through experiences like these that the power of a global MBA becomes that much richer,” says Winston, who relocated from Canada to pursue an MBA at EDHEC.
“The trip was so well orchestrated, so well thought out, that you could not walk away from it without taking a moment to be thankful for the positon you’re in, and to be inspired by the South Africans.”
Edith Kennedy, program facilitator at Stellenbosch, designed the trip with the EDHEC MBA students’ futures in mind.
“By broadening their understanding of how another country deals with sustainability in the form of the environment, economics and community, they can better use sustainability methods in their own corporate environment towards a triple-bottom line,” she says.
“What they learnt in this module is the complex nature of the South African environment, its complicated cultural and legal diversity, and how all of this is incorporated into doing business in Africa,” she continues. “In the long term, this will help them work with complex teams on a global scale.”