When selecting the location for their Global Business Week trip, West Coast student Marieke Shukla, WG’17, and East Coast student Travis Nix, WG’17 both opted for a location they had not previously visited: South Africa.
“I grew up abroad and believe experiences in other cultures broaden perspectives in important ways,” said Marieke, who has spent time in India, Kenya, and Holland. “I was interested in its history and economic development, particularly in the context of Apartheid.”
Travis had a special interest in South Africa because he hadn’t done business there yet. “It’s a growing market in the world and I wanted to learn more about it,” he said. “I have prior global business experience, and I saw this trip as a valuable part of the curriculum.”
A native of South Africa, Prof. Martine Haas led the trip, where the theme was “Gateway to Africa.” Here are a few highlights from the trip that Travis and Marieke shared with us:
Moving the Continent Forward
Travis: There are significant socioeconomic challenges in South Africa, but at the same time tremendous growth and opportunity. These two worlds seem to live side by side. There also is entrepreneurship, even in poorer areas like the township of Khayelitsha. We met several entrepreneurs there who are building businesses around local needs like teaching children to swim and laundry services. Smaller businesses face challenges (like access to power and water), but they also have big opportunities and an infectious optimism for a better future.
Marieke: There is cautious optimism in South Africa. There is a sense of enormous opportunity, but also enormous challenges including an extremely high HIV/AIDS rate and the legacy of Apartheid. The country has the potential to be a leader in Africa. Compared to other developing countries, the infrastructure is surprisingly well developed. Gender equality and women’s leadership in health care, education, agriculture, politics, and business appear to be an important component of moving the continent forward.
Highlights and Meaningful Moments from the Trip
Travis: Visiting a vineyard in Cape Town was a highlight. Vineyards have been in South Africa for a long time, but because of Apartheid they could not enter the global market. Now, many vineyards are trying to enter and find a niche in that market. They are working to re-establish South African wine as a brand and by all appearances are going to be a formidable competitor.
It also was very interesting to visit an engineering/construction firm in Johannesburg, which is working on infrastructure projects like roads, dams, schools, and airports. They talked about the challenges of working in different countries across Africa. Each country has different regulations, political environments, and business requirements. They need a local presence in each location to be successful. We learned how each country needs to be treated differently and independently, as some have open and modern markets, while others have more political challenges.
In addition, we met with a member of South Africa’s Parliament who wrote an op-ed for a South African newspaper about our visit.
Marieke: Education is particularly important to me so our visits to the African Leadership Academy and Philani were very impactful. There is so much opportunity in Africa, but so many challenges need to be overcome. Education is the only mechanism to overcome those challenges, whether it’s the future of leaders at an elite academy or the education of young mothers in a settlement.
At the Academy, we learned about the vision to fill a leadership void in Africa by developing young leaders. We enjoyed a meal with current students, all impressive young people with bright futures. They explained how they are incentivized with loan forgiveness programs to obtain college educations elsewhere in the hope that they will return to Africa to put their knowledge and skills to work.
We also visited Philani Maternal, Child Health and Nutrition Project, a community health program in one of the informal settlements outside of Cape Town. It is focused on supporting pregnant women and their children to prevent malnutrition and mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS. The mentor mothers, many of whom are women who have successfully raised children in the same communities, teach basic nutrition, child development, and other important skills to new mothers. Their efforts empower women to raise children who are well nourished and developing properly, which will have a positive impact on future generations.
Making Connections That Last
Marieke: I’m planning to spend two terms in Philadelphia this year and it was helpful getting to know many of the East Coast students on this trip. Sharing our impressions and reflections during site visits, preparing for presentations, and talking in more casual settings over meals was a unique experience. We also got to know our professors and the EMBA staff members on the trip. Many students did side trips on their own before or after the program. I joined a small group of classmates in Kruger National Park for several days prior to the start of the program, which was a remarkable experience.
This trip helped me better understand different business perspectives from leaders in South Africa while enjoying time with my classmates. It’s important to spend time outside of your comfort zone or you can mistakenly assume that everything works the same way around the world. You need to understand the challenges people face and cultural nuances of each country to even begin to be able to successfully navigate in that environment.
Travis: Bonding with other students was a big part of the trip. I met people from the West Coast and got to know my East Coast classmates better. Before the program began, my wife and I went on a safari with 10 other classmates, friends and family members, which was a great bonding experience too.
It’s eye opening to see how things are done in a different part of the world. You see that there are different ways to reach the same end goal. This trip was a very unique learning and bonding experience. You could go to South Africa on your own, but you’d never replicate this type of experience. The experiences I had with my classmates will be a connection that we will share forever.
Posted: November 9, 2016