Derek Debrah, MSc Management student, shares his experience of taking part in a study trip to the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business, South Africa, as part of his course:
The purpose of the study trip was to provide a practical insight into innovation, entrepreneurship and social enterprise in South Africa - a key emerging economy.
The agenda for the trip was planned to perfection and each day we built upon learnings and insights from the previous days. We started the week with an opening lecture on the history and current political and economic landscape of South Africa. In the afternoon, we then took a walking tour of one of the oldest residential areas in Cape Town, which has been the traditional home of the Muslim community in Cape Town, known as Bo-Kaap (Bo-Kaap means above the Cape in Afrikaans). The area is known for its history and the vibrant, colourful appearance of its buildings. This has attracted a lot of interest in buying property in the area and has subsequently increased the threat of gentrification – something which the historical community is strongly fighting against.
Innovative finance for social impact
On the second day, we spent the day at a tech start-up hub where we learnt more about innovative finance and FinTech solutions in South Africa. The focus of the day was on innovative finance for social impact – i.e. how these finance solutions are focused on delivering wide societal benefit. For example, we looked at how blockchain technology can facilitate payments between the formal and informal economy.
On the third day, we spent the day at an incredible vineyard known as Boschendal wine estate. The focus of the day was on learning more about social enterprise within the South African wine industry, using the neighbouring Solms Delta wine estate as a case study. We briefly learnt about the history of the South African wine industry and how the historical owners of Solms Delta wine estate are giving back to the local community, some whose families have worked on the wine estate for several generations due to the historical ties to slavery in Cape Town. It was very interesting and uplifting to learn that the historical owners of the wine estate have empowered the workers by giving them ownership of nearly 50% of the business. Interestingly, during the week we were in Cape Town, a Trevor McDonald documentary on South Africa was aired on ITV in the UK in which he also made a visit to the Solms Delta wine estate. Despite the great initiatives undertaken by Solms Delta, unfortunately the business is currently in restructuring due to financial difficulties caused by various factors. Therefore, one important learning is that social enterprises still need to be sustainable within themselves.
On day 4, we started with a lecture on national cultures and leadership styles. This was a very interesting session in which we explored national stereotypes and examined perceived cultural stereotypes against more empirical evidence of actual national culture traits. In the afternoon we made an industrial visit to a bed linen manufacturer known as Cotton Traders.
Inclusive innovation with the founder of Iyeza Health
Day 5 was all about inclusive innovation. We were taken on a whistle-stop tour of five different businesses in Cape Town, two of which were based in Cape Town’s largest township, Khayelitsha. We were also taken on a brief walking tour of Khayelitsha which was an eye-opening experience for the group.
I was particularly inspired by the founder of Iyeza Health, who we visited on day 5 in Khayelitsha. He is a very engaging character who has developed an amazing bicycle courier service to deliver chronic medication within Khayelitsha. He spotted a demand for the service as several people had to take a day of unpaid leave from work just to collect their medication. Importantly, he employs local residents as couriers, which is good for the local economy and beneficial for the business as they know the area. The business has since gone from strength to strength and now owns southern African branding rights for an HIV self-testing device which will hopefully contribute to a decrease in the prevalence of HIV in the region. He’s a very impressive person which is further highlighted by the fact that he was included in the Forbes top 30 African business people under the age of 30 list in 2013, at the age of 21.
The trip wasn’t all planned around business learning - we took a cable car up Table Mountain which was incredible, the views from the top of the mountain are unbelievable! We also went on a mini peninsula hop on, hop off bus tour around the city which was amazing. They love their Rugby in Cape Town which suits me as I’m also a big rugby fan – the timing of the trip was perfect as the third test of England’s tour to South Africa was in Cape Town, at the famous Newlands stadium, during our visit and I managed to get tickets! Would’ve been better if it was South Africa vs Wales but I can’t complain too much…
A multi-faceted learning experience
The study tour made it abundantly clear that there is more to business than just profit. My main take away from the study tour is the value of social enterprise and how it can contribute to solving important issues within society. As cheesy as it sounds, I loved the whole study tour. It was great to see so many different forms of innovation, entrepreneurship and social enterprise within a key emerging economy. It was also great to get a first-hand understanding of South Africa as a country and the challenges the country faces going forward.
I would absolutely recommend this trip to future MSc Management students. Although it is not an assessed part of the course, it provides an incredible multi-faceted learning experience which you will never forget.