Cape Town, South Africa   Photo By: Ingrid Llaveshi

Saturday, March 10, 2018 – By: Ingrid Llaveshi, MBA'18

The journey to South Africa was long but full of emotions. Having never been to Africa before, I was quite ecstatic for the experience ahead of us. I would occasionally get jolts of excitement at the prospect of the trip, but I also felt the responsibility on my shoulders. During the journey I tried my best to override the jetlag schedule, so I could be alert and begin to absorb the culture of South Africa from day one.

After getting a quick rest and taking advantage of the free time we had, we headed out for perhaps what is the most classic experience in Africa, the safari tour. While all the people on the tour were tourists, we got to experience first from our tour guide, Dusty, what South Africans are like. From the very first exchange we had with her, we felt the warmth and the openness of her people. She was so genuine and comfortable in talking to us - complete strangers. While we were on the tour, she took time to explain each and everything in a very genuine manner. I was so impressed with the fact that she was so casual, relaxed, and talking to us like we were her friends. She took her time in the tour which lasted beyond what was scheduled. I was deeply moved by the love, affection and care she had for each of the animals, and the experience left me with the impression that she, along with many, many others, is so proud of the main signatures and symbols of Africa, the animals.

Returning from the tour, we had an even more meaningful conversation with the Uber driver. Just like our safari tour guide, he was so open and talked to us very comfortably on a range of topics. He described for us in disturbing detail how challenging his everyday work is, how they get harassed and hijacked by metered-taxi drivers because he drives for Uber. Here you have someone who is a completely honest person, who is working hard to provide for his family of four children and wife, and striving to make ends meet every single day. Add to that, the pressure and stress of his job and you get a picture of what these people are going through -- living in fear and insecurity every day, even when they are working so hard. He gave us a clear picture of the legacy of apartheid, by describing how he lived in fear back then of being beaten for walking groups more than three. But what is even more shocking is that he lives in fear even now, decades after the end of apartheid, because of completely different reasons, such as high crime rates, the extreme inequality gap, and the lack of opportunities. His heart was exactly in the right place -- An honest working man who wants his children to get an education and have a better life, and who dreams of a future for equal opportunities, the end of violence, and people of every color living in harmony.

Sunday, March 11, 2018- Iftekhar Akter

After breakfast I met Mark Bland (who was there to help us with general sightseeing activities) for the first time, and it was finally good to put a face to the name, since we were in touch with Mark via e-mail. Over e-mail I was hesitant to ask too many questions since I thought I might be taking up too much of his time, but after meeting him in person those worries went away quickly because he was an absolute gentleman, and an easy-going and funny man, a trend I am now beginning to see between a lot of the South Africans I have met. Then I met Noel (a guide in Diepsloot) who took us to tour the Cradle of Humanity and then the Apartheid Museum. Cradle of Humanity was cool because it is known as the “birthplace of humankind,” and potentially a place where the first hominid may have roamed the earth. I have been to the Mammoth Caves before, so the caves in the Cradle of Humanity wasn’t all that new to me. The highlight of the day for me was the Apartheid Museum, because it’s one thing to read about it, but to see pictures and videos of oppression and how Black South Africans were tortured and segregated was truly a shocking experience.

I went into the cell that imitated Mandela’s prison cell was as well as some of the solitary confinement chambers, and that really shook me as I stood there in closed wall with about two feet on either side.

Later, we went for dinner, and I was also surprised how much Sandton was developed. I felt like I was cruising in a good neighborhood in an upscale California city which is just a façade and distracts you from all the poverty, crime and struggles of the black South African communities.

Monday, March 12, 2018 –Brian Carman

We began the day with a lecture at GIBS (the Gordon Institute of Business Science) and heard from Adrian, Tash, and Anthony, all professors at GIBS and proponents of South African improvement.  I learned far more than expected as the speakers were thought-provoking and dynamic with their presentations.

Adrian began the day explaining how economies at the macro level can influence businesses at the micro level.  This seemed to be a common thought on the surface but as he explained more about what he deemed the “six pack of influences on economic growth,” it was clear that there was more to emerging markets specifically.  Adrian gave examples of the current state of the South African economy, and how President Cyril Ramaphosa’s 10 keys to success play into a turnaround.  He also offered several examples of comparison of how South Africa relates to other countries on the Human Development Index.  Inequality was a major theme throughout the presentation.

From Top, clockwise: Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) in South Africa; MBA students visit gym in Alexandra, South Africa; first trip into the townships in Alexandra.

Tash spoke mostly to the very specifics of businesses and the main issues that are faced in South Africa in the townships. The most impactful takeaway for me from Tash’s presentation was the satellite view of Diepsloot, which showed it had been specifically designed to geographically to land lock low income people away from the rich.  It is clear that the Apartheid is still carried on in South Africa -- No longer with race, but income.

Finally, Anthony spoke about the South African state from a socioeconomic point of view.  He spoke from his experience growing up during the Apartheid in the white-upper class neighborhoods. He was extremely passionate about the future of South Africa. The biggest takeaway that I had from his presentation was in regards to the relationship between civic engagement and governmental efficiency and where Africa is headed moving forward. It is clear the level of civic engagement that is currently taking place must carry on so that individuals do not become complacent.  Along with that, there must be an increase in government efficiency; something that many people in South Africa have hoped for with the removal of Jacob Zuma as president.

My favorite part of the day was our trip out to Alexandra, a township similar to Diepsloot, where we will be working with our small businesses. This was by far the most surreal experience that I had thus far. It is one thing to experience these townships through text, video, and satellite images, but something completely different to navigate through them. 

We were fortunate enough to have to Alexandra natives guide us through the township. They were so proud to show us around where they reside. I don’t think there was anyone who could not notice the cheerful look on everyone’s faces. We had been warned by Tash that this is how it is in the daytime, but not the night time. While this seems hard to believe from our experience there, I no doubt know that what she was saying is true. My biggest takeaway is what communities can do to come together. They are not only doing business for themselves, but also, service to their communities. I cannot wait for what happens next.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018 –Barry Hengehold

On Tuesday we went straight from the hotel to Diepsloot township. I was excited to meet with our clients but also nervous. This would be my first time consulting, let alone, in a foreign country with a much different kind of business than I am accustomed. I wanted to make sure we stood by our plan and spend the majority of the time developing a relationship and getting to know who our clients are and what drives their business ambitions.

Our team was finally dropped off at our business, along with Kelly, one of the GIBs associates that was there to help us navigate through Diepsloot. The hair salon that my group would work with was located on a dirt road off a main street, and I noted that it wasn’t very well marked and didn’t have any notable branding. The shack wasn’t very big, and when we walked in Fernando and Lizzy (our entrepreneurs) were busy with customers. I didn’t know exactly how to greet them at first since I did not want to interrupt them with customers. Luckily though, Kelly was able to help break the ice and introduce us and our purpose, which was a relief.

The group out to dinner at the rooftop of GIBS.

After the initial greeting, we started talking about their backgrounds, families, interests, and goals. It became evident early on that Fernando in particular had strong ties with his family. He was the oldest of three siblings and wanted to be able to provide for them and his mother, who still lives in Mozambique. I shared how I also had a brother and we joked about the struggles of how annoying they can be sometimes. Fernando and Lizzy were young and liked to joke around, and we bonded over these commonalities. They were very easygoing, and I feel we were quickly able to build a good relationship with them both.

After developing a sense of who they were and sensing a level of trust being developed, we began probing more into business affairs. For being a small operation, they seemed to be doing quite well for themselves. A common theme they brought up was how they wanted to be known for their customer service. They both had a strong passion to deliver the best experience for their customers and to continue to sharpen their skills. They seemed confident about their future, and as we left, I began feeling concerned about what value we could add to their “up and coming” business. I also began to feel the time restraint that we were under and worried that there would not be enough time to do anything impactful. However, once we got back to GIBS and did the design thinking workshop with Ithia (another instructor), my concerns were lessened.

That night we enjoyed a nice dinner at the rooftop of GIBS. The food was delicious and so was the wine.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018- Ingrid Llaveshi

On Wednesday morning we continued working with Ithia, one of the professionals we had working with us at GIBs, on the design workshop. The concept that stuck with me during this exercise was being mindful of paths in your brain that you are used to, such as your usual ways of solving a problem. When we are working with people in the townships, we need to fall out of love with our ideas, and forge new paths in the brain. Everything we think we know about a business might not apply to businesses at the bottom of the pyramid.

In the afternoon we met with Mashudu (our entrepreneur) again and had a very productive conversation with her. A few more challenges she is having surfaced and we learned in more detail how she runs the businesses, where her strengths are and where there is room for improvement. It was amazing to learn how she has managed to improve on so many things in her business in order to keep the cost down, such as shopping for meat and vegetables in bulk. We learned more about her schedule and how she organizes resources during the day. From the conversation we concluded that she was using her two cars, very valuable resources, quite efficiently. We learned during this conversation that she does a really good job of keeping track of inventory: She knows how much raw material she had in the morning and at the end of the day. However, she and her employees don’t write down when they sell items, so the need to take a further look into accounting practices was immediate.

We talked some more with Mashudu about her relationship with her employees since she is challenged with a high turnover rate. We suggested that she make some small improvements such as having one to one meetings with them in a casual manner, and perhaps she gives some incentives that may help build the relationship, such as a bonus at the end of the year, vacation days, meals for the employees’ children, etc. We believe these incentives are important because Mashudu’s time doing other things is a lot more valuable than her time training new employees.

We also spoke about the customer experience, and how she will need to collect customer satisfaction data in particular to fine tune her food and drinks menu. Since there were not many customers in the kitchen at the time, Kelly had the great idea of making a quick suggestion box with a few blank pieces of paper to collect customer feedback anonymously. This served as a prototype to a later customer survey which would help us get at least a few data points.

Thursday, March 15, 2018 - Grant Kitcoff

On Thursday, we had our last day with our entrepreneur, in which we could refine our prototypes and give him some last minute advice before our presentations on Friday. Thursday was intended to be a “market research” day, so we walked with our coach along the path that most of Khulani’s (my group’s entrepreneur) foot traffic comes from. 

Giant mall in Diepsloot.

We walked for about 10 minutes up a hill before coming upon a very very large mall. This mall had everything anyone could ever need, from a Home Depot clone to a Walmart clone. It seemed very strange that something like this existed not very far from these people who are struggling to provide for their family.

Our coach kept talking about how the mall was a good thing for the community because it gives more jobs, but I was not convinced that this would not kill more jobs long term because of the low prices of some of these goods. When I went back to GIBS I had a conversation with Kelly about how these malls seem to just suck the money out of a community like that without giving much back to them. Our coach reassured us that if given the option, people in the community would rather purchase products from others in the community, but if the prices at the mall were significantly lower they wouldn’t have an option. We went back to GIBS and listened to a lecture on frugal innovation and further marketing and structuring businesses to benefit the bottom of the pyramid. This seemed fitting from a firm perspective after seeing the mall in Diepsloot, but I wondered whether some of these innovations were beneficial to the people in these communities.


Friday, March 16, 2018 – Brian Carman

After a long night of preparation, our group met in the morning with a rejuvenated excitement about our presentation soon to follow. We were also excited to see Khulani (our business owner) and Ntbengshi (our Diepsloot host) for the final time on our trip. We arrived at GIBS around 9AM and went to work putting the finishing touches on our presentation. We wanted to sum up our notes sections and also needed to print and laminate inventory trackers for Khulani.

Tash, a brilliant graduate of the GIBS school, who would ultimately score our presentations, was a bit late, which may have added to our group’s anxiousness as we were ready to go. Seeing Khulani and Ntbengshi certainly helped, and it seemed as though they were just as excited as us. The time finally came for the presentation, and Grant would present for our group.  Grant did a great job, especially presenting as the first group. Needless to say, I was proud of everything we could propose for Khulani. Tash and Kelly also appeared enthusiastic about the strides we had made over the week. The other presentations came and went. It was obvious all of the groups shared similar tactics with market research, branding, and inventory tracking. Our group would eventually not win the competition; certainly disappointing but we were happy for the group that won. It just meant that others were able to help their entrepreneurs just as much, and when it comes down to it, that is what we were really here to do. Those impacts are the ones that stand the test of time.

It was a bittersweet lunch to share with our entire group; I will certainly miss my new friends. I look forward to keeping in contact moving forward. We ended the first half of the day with pictures and goodbyes.

We were then off to Cummins for our final visit. While not an engineer, I was able to gather great insights into corporate responsibilities in emerging markets. The staff was friendly, intelligent, and open to answering any questions we had.

We then had another bittersweet meal at dinner, where the entire group would be together for the final time.  It was a great experience where we were able to relive the most memorable moments of the trip and express our gratitude for Shirls, Yads, and of course our professor on the trip, Marjorie Lyles.  It was a great time full of laughter, good conversation, and even some South African culture.  It was a dinner I will never forget!

Other Sights from South Africa

Bottom Photo: Cape Town, South Africa-Photo Taken by Grant Kitcoff. Top Left Photo: Lions Safari Park - Pictured Left to Right: Garrett, Grant, Vignesh, and Barry. Top Right Photo: Lions Safari Park - Pictured Brian Carman.