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Sustainability And South Africa With A Global Ambassador

“Institutions of higher education are critical pillars of sustainable human development”, says South African MBA Gretchen Arangies

Wed Aug 22 2012

Gretchen Arangies grew up on a farm in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. After studying a BComm at the University of Port Elizabeth, Gretchen took an MBA at the University of Stellenbosch Business School, where she also worked full time in Human Resources.

Gretchen was chosen by the Association of MBAs to act as their Global Ambassador in South Africa, which gave her the opportunity to speak at the UN's Rio+20 Sustainability. She also won the Global Ambassador’s challenge for outstanding journalistic work, interviewing local business leader Will Coetsee.

BusinessBecause talks to Gretchen about ensuring businesses have a sustainable future, and gets the inside view on living and working in South Africa.

What persuaded you to do an MBA?

My passion for learning, my search for a broader vision and my need to expand my knowledge and skills led me to do an MBA at the University of Stellenbosch Business School. I decided on the modular programme, which meant attending classes while working full-time.

How did you manage to balance full-time work and an MBA?

Ha-ha! I think I’ll call it organised chaos. Planning and focusing, and support from my family – that was how I did my MBA. I also believe in regular exercise to deal with the pressure and demands of studying whilst working full-time.

How has an MBA helped you in your career?

The MBA broadened and enhanced my knowledge and skills, and created career opportunities. It's about a new way of thinking – a holistic understanding of business. It definitely also changed the way I manage people and interact with them. For me, it is about adding value to people's lives by developing and transforming them.

What has been your most exciting experience as a Global Ambassador?

The Global Ambassador initiative has changed my lifer and turned this year into a roller-coaster ride! I feel privileged to be part of the Association of MBAs’ Global Ambassadors and to exchange information with MBA graduates around the globe.

My most exiting experience as a Global Ambassador was to do a presentation at the closing session of the Global Compact (PRME) conference in Rio de Janeiro. This formed part of the prize I received when I won the Global Ambassadors’ Challenge.

It is a privilege to be the USB’s Global Ambassador. I also thank AMBA for the leadership challenge which allowed me to attend the UN's Rio+20 Sustainability Forum and to speak on behalf of AMBA. It’s all about exchanging information, sharing common ground and gaining understanding.

Tell us about your experience of the Rio+20 conference on sustainability.

This was a unique opportunity to represent AMBA and the University of Stellenbosch Business School, and it was a real honour. It was great to be part of a group of leading university representatives and to become aware of the valuable contribution that universities and specifically business schools make to support sustainable development.

I applaud and support the belief that institutions of higher education across the globe should engage with social issues, and play a pivotal role in making the world a better place by improving the lives of people. An engaged institution fosters and delivers hope.

Do you think businesses are starting to understand the importance of sustainability?

I believe so. I also believe that this will definitely improve. Will Coetsee, the businessman I interviewed for the Association of MBAs’ Leadership Challenge, said: "Once one company in an industry starts to focus on sustainability it is like the rising tide that lifts all the ships".

Institutions of higher education are critical pillars of sustainable human development. As such, they need to incorporate sustainability, governance and ethical leadership in their programmes in order to instil these values in the next generations of leaders.

Engaged students can take this world to the next level of sustainable development as an engaged student corps fosters hope. These students have to become significantly different from the past and at the same time also significantly better for the future.

How do you see the future of business in South Africa?

As South Africa is now a member of the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) it means South Africa has access to a huge market. The IMF forecasts that Africa will grow at 5.7% per annum over the next 5 years.

Hence, it seems the opportunities lie in Africa, with many international companies choosing to set up offices in South Africa to lead the expansion into the rest of Africa. This will generate good opportunities for South African businesses and help to establish this country as an attractive investment destination.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of working in South Africa?

South Africa provides growth opportunities for a wide range of people, including entrepreneurs. This country also has many skills shortages, so ensure that you obtain the skills required to grow the economy.

The high crime rate in South Africa remains a challenge and this could be a deterrent for job seekers. However, a myriad of opportunities await those who want to invest their time and talent in this great country.

Read more about the reasons people head to business school in the Why MBA section