South Africa Bound: Faculty International Seminar

Faculty International Seminars gives Wharton faculty exposure to the emerging Kenyan and South African economies. What new insights will find their way into curricula and research?

By Kelly Andrews

In July and August 2011, a team of Wharton faculty visited Kenya and South Africa to learn how Africa is evolving within the global economy. They gained precious insight from local entrepreneurs and alumni.

The group was in Africa as part of Wharton’s Faculty International Seminar (FIS), which takes groups of faculty to selected countries to experience business issues related to their research and teaching.

The professors spent 12 days meeting with business and political leaders across various sectors in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Nairobi. leading the eight-member delegation were Ziv Katalan, director of Wharton global initiatives and adjunct professor of operations and information management, and Harbir Singh, the Mack Professor of Management and vice dean for global initiatives.

“My take on the seminars is that they’re Wharton’s R&D for intellectual capital, which is what drives any business school,” Katalan says. “They’re about making sure that our faculty has firsthand exposure to the regions and countries where change is happening.”

This visit is expected to lead to new research problems and partnerships and provide the faculty with exposure to the business culture, issues and leaders of Kenya and South Africa.

Wharton students and faculty have increasingly come to look toward Africa in general, with such projects and activities as the Wharton Africa Business forum. Held Nov. 4–6, 2011, the 19th annual forum increased dialogue on business in Africa by engaging companies, prominent business professionals, investors interested in the region and leaders of academic thought.

In addition to Katalan and Singh, other participating faculty members on the FIS trip included Jonah Berger, James G. Campbell assistant Professor of Marketing; Martine Haas, associate professor of management; Shawndra Hill, assistant professor of operations and information management; Stephen Hoch, Laura and John J. Pomerantz Professor in Marketing; David Reibstein, William Stewart Woodside Professor and professor of marketing; and Kenneth Shropshire, David w. Hauck Professor and professor of legal studies and business ethics.

“We saw a whole host of companies of different sizes and areas— everything from shampoo factories to call centers to cigarette companies to tourism,” explains Berger, who was visiting Africa for the first time. They met with people at all levels—CEOs, CFOs and entrepreneurs who had crafted unique solutions and business models and who had worked to be innovators and leaders in their respective industries. Hill, who has taught a doctoral class at Addis Adaba University in Ethiopia for three years, says the highlight of the trip was witnessing the wide use in Kenya of m-pesa, a mobile banking solution by Safaricom.

“The success and wide adoption of m-pesa highlights the fact that we can’t always fit our western solutions to the continent,” she says. “There may be more innovative solutions that have the potential to enable a larger number of consumers to participate in business.”

Originally published in Wharton Magazine, November 11, 2011.

Read the full story>>