Enlightening Executive MBA International Trip to South Africa

Wharton | San Francisco MBA for executives student Jessica Ross recently returned from her International Trip to South Africa. We asked the managing director of cost transformation at Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals to tell us more about her experience on the trip. Here’s what she said:

Executive MBA South AfricaWe were given four options for our required International Trip, but as soon as I saw South Africa on the list, I knew that was where I wanted to go. As a destination, South Africa has always been a country on my bucket list. I also looked forward to diving into the theme: Opportunities and Challenges in an Emerging Market, and the opportunity to apply these learnings across multiple industries. While I currently work in the healthcare field, I previously spent several years consulting with companies in the mining and consumer business/manufacturing space. The South Africa course promised a deeper look into these industries as well as many others.

The trip began in Johannesburg with a panel of experts providing an overview of the economy and the challenges facing post-Apartheid South Africa. It was clear that the country is burdened with several big issues, such as a 25% unemployment rate, corruption, equal access to education for blacks, and access to affordable healthcare. I was particularly interested in learning more about South Africa’s healthcare issues and strategies, considering the country has one of the highest HIV infection rates in the world.

Our trip was extremely well organized, as we had three professors on the ground: Wharton Prof. Martine Haas, Johan Burger, a professor from a local university, and Vice Dean of Wharton’s MBA for Executives Program Peggy Bishop Lane. Each day was strategically focused on a different set of industries including banking, manufacturing, mining/energy, healthcare, media, entrepreneurship and wine. During those days, students could select from various company visits that were of greatest interest to them.

One of my most memorable and inspirational visits took place on our entrepreneurship day, where I opted to visit Khayelitsha, a well-known Township outside of Cape Town. During Apartheid, Townships were established as underdeveloped living areas reserved for non-whites. Although Apartheid was abolished in 1994, a large majority of South African blacks continue to reside in these areas, which include homes ranging from tin shacks to upper middle class two-story residences. Infrastructure in these areas remains poor and unemployment in Khayelitsha is almost double that of the national average at a rate of 47%.

Our visit to Khayelitsha introduced us to a phenomenal set of determined, young entrepreneurs at Hubspace, an entrepreneurial incubator. Despite the socio-economic environment, they have leveraged innovation and grit to launch businesses that have grabbed international attention. We learned how one gentleman launched a logistics business that offers delivery of chronic medication from public hospitals to clients’ homes (which has greatly improved the current process of spending an entire day at a hospital for medicine), how another introduced lattes and cappuccinos to the town through the Department of Coffee (a trendy coffee shop that gives a portion of its proceeds back to food programs in local schools) and how another launched a green baking business on U.S. $4 in start-up capital.

This post was originally posted on the Executive MBA site on October 14, 2014. 

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