Global MBA Executives Seek Business Solutions In African SMEs

By Lyn Eyb AFKI Original Published: July 4, 2014, 1:01 am

More than 100 MBA executives from around the world will descend on South African townships in Cape Town and Johannesburg between July 6-10 to learn more about the ideas and innovations driving African businesses.

The trip, organized by the Rotterdam School of Management at Erasmus University in conjunction with the OneMBA global executive program, aims to combine classroom teaching with community service, where participants can learn from local businesses as well as share their own expertise.

The OneMBA program is run in conjunction with a consortium of five business schools in Europe, Asia, North America and South America. The 21 months course encourages students to share best practices and perspectives, and to explore challenges and opportunities of doing business in a global arena.

In their South African trip the MBA executives will work with micro-businesses and not-for-profits, looking at the challenges and opportunities the organizations face.

Each MBA team will prepare a presentation in support of their local partner in an effort to win their organization $2,150 (R23.000), donated by Erasmus University.

Dianne Bevelander, who teaches on the program, said executives could learn much from African communities.

“We can learn a lot about business from the residents of townships, where they may not have a lot of money but there is so much innovation and creativity going on,” she told AFKInsider.

“By taking our students to the townships of South Africa, by them working with the micro-businesses and trying to understanding the challenges many of these people face and how innovative they are, we give our students a perspective on sustainable business.”

Creative Persuasion

The participants will not be allowed to use traditional methods of presentation, such as PowerPoint, and must instead use more creative ways of persuading the audience to donate to their business.

As part of this initiative, Erasmus OneMBA students last year raised $1,410 (R15.000) for the Kuyasa Clean Development Mechanism Pilot Project, an NGO working to retrofit solar water heaters, insulation and energy efficient lighting to 2,300 low-cost homes in Khayelitsha.

Kuyasa CDM Pilot Project received funding last year thanks to the annual Rotterdam School of Management at Erasmus University OneMBA program trip.

It’s the fourth consecutive year students on the global MBA program have been offered the chance to visit South Africa as part of their studies.

“We are not attempting to tell people how to conduct their businesses better; rather, we are looking for our students to learn from people whose entrepreneurial and innovative achievements are exemplary precisely because of the circumstances under which they thrive,” Bevelander said.

Saskia Treurniet, of the Rotterdam School of Management at Erasmus University, said the executives would learn about South Africa’s economic, political and social development, as well as its role in the world economy.

The unique challenges facing Africa in terms of lifestyle and health, as well as South Africa’s relationship with other powerhouse economies, such as China, would all feature on the agenda.

“We want our participants to understand the business relevance of the growing middle class in emerging markets in general and in South Africa in particular,” Treurniet said.

It was also important for executives to understand the interdependencies at play in the business world and to gain an insight into social corporate responsibility, she added.

Bottom of the Pyramid

Seeing first-hand the workings of Prahalad’s ‘The fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid’ and experiencing African history and culture would also help shape the world view of the executives.

Eugene Mtshali, from Alexandra township, is a graphic designer working at Extortion Designs, one of the micro-businesses the MBA students will work with in Johannesburg.

He said the executives would benefit from a grassroots perspective of the South African business community.

“A lot of people have undermining mentalities about us,” Mtshali said.  “They should come and see how we live and what we do …

there is so much positivity coming out of this place.”

Svjetlana Jerkovic, Business Director EMEA General Chemicals at Univar in The Netherlands, who will visit South Africa as part of the OneMBA student contingent said “Africa is a fascinating continent because it is a fast growing market which has so many opportunities for innovation and development driven by population and GDP growth, not just being a rich source of natural resources but also a growing consumer market.”

Another student, Yvonne Modu, a Financial Services Consultant from the UK, told AFKInsider the trip would give her the opportunity to experience the “21st century South Africa”.

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