Stepping off the plane in Johannesburg, I already had my flip flops on and was ready for a week-long vacation. I spent the previous few months on an academic exchange in cold Philadelphia, and was ready for sunshine.
I chose Johannesburg as my destination for London Business School’s Global Business Experience because I had never been to South Africa and was in need of warm weather. What I didn’t expect was how much I would learn from this week and how the experience has shaped my outlook on business and life.
A group of 90 students from London Business School were brought to Johannesburg to learn about entrepreneurship in an emerging market. We put into practice what we’ve learned in the MBA so far by helping a micro-entrepreneur in the township of Alexandra, a place Nelson Mandela once called home. The stark contrast in poverty was seen immediately as we drove from our hotel in Sandton to Alexandra, and as we got to know our micro-entrepreneurs and their businesses, we discovered the opportunity to make a positive impact on many lives. This ‘on-the-ground’ work was supplemented by meetings with senior management at companies in Johannesburg, ranging from General Electric to SAB Miller to Deloitte. Our discussions with these businesses highlighted the work multinational companies are doing on the continent, and how they are working to help African entrepreneurs build scale and become leading organizations.
As I was applying to different MBA programs, I understood that LBS emphasized the diversity of its class (both professionally and culturally) and its global perspective on business. And while the London classroom hits you with its global outlook on day one, I didn’t quite appreciate how important these were until going to Johannesburg, working with fellow students on a consulting project, and learning about business in Africa. The Global Business Experience has made me realize just how connected the world is, which is critical for any company in any country, and how much I can actually help entrepreneurs grow their own business.
Our class assignments and case studies require students to analyze information from various perspectives and think critically to recommend an optimal solution. But it’s a different experience when you put it into practice, and yet very rewarding when you learn how impactful your work can actually be. In the case of our micro-entrepreneur Moses, who has been running a TV/radio repair business for the past 20 years, I hope our team’s recommendations will ensure he continues to operate profitably for the next 20 years, particularly with the upcoming regulatory changes.
Did I get the sunshine I was hoping for during this week? Yes, and also had a few burns to prove it. But more than that, I started to build a network in South Africa (and found a potential job opportunity if I choose to pursue it). I learned that I truly value a global perspective on business and life, and will take this to heart for years to come, professionally with jobs and companies I interact with and personally through travelling and the people I meet. I also learned about entrepreneurship first-hand from a relatively successful entrepreneur in a very difficult business environment, and the skills and attitude that he portrayed are something we can all incorporate into our lives, wherever that may lead us.
For more information on the Global Business Experience click here