by Andrea Judy
International business is steeped into the Executive MBA program at the J. Mack Robinson College of Business. Through relationships built over 30 years, our EMBA cohorts experience business across the globe. In January, our latest cohort spent 14 days in South Africa learning about business, economics and charity.
During the trip the cohort visited Johannesburg, Entabeni and Cape Town, South Africa. The journey included visits to local schools, the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and several South African-based businesses. Working with professionals at local businesses put all the knowledge acquired over the 17 months of the EMBA program to use. “We met with many entrepreneurs, and that was unique to South Africa. Entrepreneurial spirit is what’s growing their economy,” student Alex Fenech said.
On the first day of the trip the students visited a primary school. That visit set the tone for the rest of the trip for Brian Gustin. “I remember a little boy with a broken car toy and a stick, and he was so happy to be at school. Going to the primary school that first day, gave us such a context for the environment that the businesses are working in.”
Working on not just business problems and operations, the cohort also spent time with non-profits, museums and local schools. “The hybrid of pivoting from really high-level business meetings to social companies with a purpose was what made the trip. We were challenged to help make their businesses better, but we also had to look at how we were impacting people. It was incredible,” Fenech said. The chance to work on economic, social and cultural challenges pushed the group to come up with more innovative solutions that matched the unique situations and opportunities found in South Africa.
The experiences all made an impact on the students, but Heart Capital, a non-profit in Cape Town, captured the group’s heart. Heart Capital’s goal is to lift people out of poverty through entrepreneurship, and this spoke most significantly to the EMBA students. The cohort did a service project with the company, helping to build a sustainable vegetable garden that will serve as a franchise for a local township member. “We moved a needle that day. We were able to work side-by-side with locals and see progress that will create long-lasting change,” said student Corey Veal. Physically being involved in the work and seeing the progress being made gave the cohort the feeling of real impact.
The EMBA group immediately made the commitment to support Heart Capital and upon their return began collecting donations for the organization. With their contribution, Heart Capital will be able to create a new hydroponic tunnel. This prototype facility will allow them to train entrepreneurs for years to come. Founder of Heart Capital, Peter Shrimpton, shared, “In 14 years, this is the first time that any group has contributed to our project financially, and we get scores of visitors from all around the world every year. You are about to change some people’s lives forever.”
“Heart Capital doesn’t give money out; they empower people to become entrepreneurs themselves,” Brian Gustin explained. “It’s that old idiom: teach a man to fish and he eats for life.”
Both Gustin and Veal described Heart Capital as a way to create entrepreneurs and really impact change on a long-term scale. “It’s not a hand out, it’s a hand up. Local people will be given a franchise, they’ll hire their own staff and sell their own products. It will continue to reinvest in the local community and themselves,” Veal said.
Our EMBA students are impacting lives around the globe and leading with purpose and heart.