Ox­ford Saïd fo­cuses on African busi­nesses

Mail & Guardian - - Higher Education - Josie Pow­ell Josie Pow­ell is PR man­ager at Saïd Busi­ness School at the Univer­sity of Ox­ford

While many MBA pro­grammes of­fer the op­por­tu­nity to study abroad, barely a hand­ful of­fer a chance to visit and learn from the vi­brant and chal­leng­ing busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment in Africa. Last week 35 ex­ec­u­tive MBA stu­dents from Saïd Busi­ness School, Univer­sity of Ox­ford came to Cape Town to do just that. The fo­cus of the mo­d­ule was In­clu­sive Busi­ness in Africa, and through a com­bi­na­tion of in­ten­sive study, com­pany vis­its and pre­sen­ta­tions the EMBA stu­dents gained a sense of the re­al­ity of do­ing busi­ness on the con­ti­nent.

“The theme In­clu­sive Busi­ness in Africa ex­plores how corporates, en­trepreneurs and pol­i­cy­mak­ers are forg­ing new busi­ness mod­els to en­cour­age job cre­ation and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment in post-apartheid South Africa, and through­out the con­ti­nent,” said Kathy Har­vey, as­so­ciate dean for MBA and ex­ec­u­tive pro­grammes at Ox­ford Saïd.

“In an en­vi­ron­ment in which un­der­rep­re­sented parts of the com­mu­nity have of­ten found them­selves left be­hind, busi­nesses and in­di­vid­u­als are us­ing in­no­va­tion, in­clu­siv­ity and so­cial re­spon­sive­ness to find so­lu­tions, cre­ate em­ploy­ment, and kick-start the econ­omy. Our EMBAs, who come from over 30 dif­fer­ent coun­tries, can learn a great deal from that.”

The course was hosted by Ox­ford alumna Aun­nie Pat­ton Power, from the Univer­sity of Cape Town GSB Bertha Cen­tre for So­cial In­no­va­tion, and in­cluded ses­sions from the school’s top fac­ulty, in­clud­ing the cen­tre’s di­rec­tor Ox­ford Saïd alum­nus Dr Fran­cois Bon­nici, and UCT GSB’s new dean, Pro­fes­sor Mills Soko. He be­gan by set­ting the scene — ex­plain­ing how the dif­fer­ent economies across Africa pro­vide new op­por­tu­ni­ties as well as chal­lenges.

Af­ter the broader pic­ture, the lens zoomed in to give stu­dents an un­der­stand­ing of how, in South Africa, in­no­va­tion in fi­nance and in busi­ness mod­els is be­ing har­nessed to find new so­lu­tions to in­tractable prob­lems. The stu­dents spent a day at the busi­ness school’s new cen­tre in Philippi, speak­ing with so­cial en­trepreneurs such as Lu­vuyo Rani, 2016 win­ner of the Sch­wab So­cial En­tre­pre­neur of the Year and co-founder of Silulo Ulutho Tech­nolo­gies, one of South­ern Africa’s fastest grow­ing busi­nesses.

Silulo op­er­ates IT stores and train­ing cen­tres in town­ships and ru­ral ar­eas of South Africa, pro­vid­ing job op­por­tu­ni­ties for un­em­ployed youth. The stu­dents also vis­ited mo­bile pay­ments fin­tech firm Zoona, a rapidly ex­pand­ing en­ter­prise, founded by for­mer Ox­ford MBA Mike Quinn, which pro­vides mo­bile money ser­vices to con­sumers in more than 1 500 lo­ca­tions in Africa, who wouldn’t oth­er­wise be able to trans­fer funds.

The week-long mo­d­ule is just one part of a broader strat­egy by Ox­ford Saïd to in­ject a fo­cus on African busi­ness into its pro­grammes. The con­ti­nent is see­ing in­cred­i­ble lev­els of in­vest­ment and growth, yet it also faces some of the most chal­leng­ing prob­lems in the world that will re­quire strong vi­sion and lead­er­ship. The school’s dean Pro­fes­sor Peter Tu­fano com­mit­ted in 2014 to be part of the pos­i­tive change in the re­gion by cul­ti­vat­ing tal­ented African stu­dents while ed­u­cat­ing the whole stu­dent body about Africa’s in­tel­lec­tual wealth and eco­nomic po­ten­tial.

He laid down the chal­lenge of at­tract­ing 10% of the MBA class from African na­tions, but as only 2% of all MBA ap­pli­cants come from Africa, Ox­ford Saïd had to think cre­atively to en­cour­age a pipe­line of new stu­dents.

The school adopted a holis­tic ap­proach to ap­pli­ca­tions from tal­ented in­di­vid­u­als; in­for­ma­tion events and MBA fairs were held to in­crease the vis­i­bil­ity of the school across the whole con­ti­nent; and stronger re­la­tion­ships with African busi­nesses were built.

This has en­abled the school to reach its 10% goal for the Ox­ford MBA and sees African na­tion­als rep­re­sented across all its pro­grammes. Fund­ing is also a key part of the strat­egy, with 65% of the African MBA stu­dents re­ceiv­ing schol­ar­ships. Tu­fano and his wife per­son­ally fund a schol­ar­ship each year for one African stu­dent.

This com­ing April a quar­ter of the 327 cur­rent full-time MBA stu­dents will gather in Johannesburg for one of their in­ter­na­tional elec­tives ex­am­in­ing “Growth prospects and op­por­tu­ni­ties in Africa”. The elec­tive will in­clude guest speak­ers and vis­its to com­pa­nies that have suc­cess­fully ex­panded across the con­ti­nent with a view to un­der­stand­ing where the chal­lenges and op­por­tu­ni­ties lie.

But in a world that is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly na­tion­al­is­tic, Tu­fano is strength­en­ing his re­solve to con­tinue the global diver­sity across the school’s pro­grammes. On the Ox­ford MBA, for ex­am­ple, 94% of the class come from 58 coun­tries out­side of the UK. “Solv­ing the world’s most com­plex global prob­lems re­quires mul­ti­ple per­spec­tives, and we must en­sure a free flow of peo­ple, prod­ucts and ideas across bor­ders,” he said. He re­cently an­nounced that the school had be­come the 29th mem­ber of the Global Net­work for Ad­vanced Man­age­ment, which counts the Univer­sity of Cape Town grad­u­ate school of busi­ness, the La­gos Busi­ness School in Nige­ria, and the Univer­sity of Ghana busi­ness school among its mem­bers.

“The abil­ity for our stu­dents from all over the world to share knowl­edge and learn from our African part­ners will help close the gap be­tween busi­ness, academia and wider so­ci­ety, and will en­cour­age the next gen­er­a­tion of African lead­ers to have a di­rect im­pact on the fu­ture and growth of the con­ti­nent,” con­cluded Har­vey.

Photo: Sup­plied

Saïd Busi­ness School stu­dents from the Univer­sity of Ox­ford learn­ing about busi­ness in Africa in Philippi, Cape Town.

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