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