When You Look at the World Differently, You May Just Change It for Good

The following blog post was written by Brett Welcher, MBA Class of 2019

Last month, I traveled across South Africa to learn more about the largest economy in the second most populous continent in the world. The 12-day trek was part of my Simon MBA program and was organized to help students gain hands-on experiential learning through corporate visits, cultural immersions, and a live case study.

More than two decades after the end of apartheid, South Africa is playing a key economic and political role on the continent, and many of my 300 hours in the country were spent examining the pillars that have contributed to South Africa’s prosperous growth. Here are the most important takeaways I gained while doing business in South Africa:

Successful Urban Revitalization Focuses on the Creative Community

Photo of #makeyourmark graffitied on an outdoor wall

#MakeYourMark encourages street artists around Johannesburg to literally make their mark and help beautify the city. Public art has been central to the success of Johannesburg’s urban revitalization.

Did you know that Johannesburg is home to one of the most successful urban renewal projects in the world? Located within the Central Business District, the Maboneng Precinct has emerged from a state of abandoned disrepair to become a mixed-use creative hub filled with apartments, restaurants, shops, and art studios. For the first time in a generation, a community of creative young professionals have chosen to live and work in downtown Johannesburg, and as a result, South Africa’s largest city is optimistically looking ahead towards the future.

The success of Maboneng has also spurred worldwide interest in urban revitalization, as officials examine whether the project’s model can be sustainably replicated in other cities to help rejuvenate communities, fuel urban growth and drive innovation. In fact, in the coming weeks, our class will be presenting our findings to city officials from Rochester, NY – Simon’s home town.

Global Awareness Is Crucial for All Businesses Today

Shipping containers on a dock in Cape Town.

Cape Town is one of the most important industrial centers and a major seaport in South Africa.

Home to 11 official languages and a rich collection of ethnic backgrounds, it’s no wonder South Africa is known as the Rainbow Nation. This diversity and makeup has been an important factor in furthering my understanding of business, particularly as world markets become more interconnected and interdependent on emerging economies.

This point was further emphasized at Sanlam, a financial services group headquartered in Cape Town. During our company visit, we engaged in an hour-long discussion with the group’s CEO where he articulated the challenges of doing business during the 2008 financial crisis, as well as in the era of apartheid.

The biggest takeaway from our talk were the perspectives we gained on the business landscape in Africa. According to Sanlam, “the opportunity in Africa is characterized by falling trade barriers and greater intra-Africa trade, changing customer demographics, more diversified economies, and major investments from other parts of the world – all drivers of growth on the continent.”

The Future of Africa Is Bright

ALA group photo.

We posed for a photo with members of the ALA. The visit was a highlight of the trip for me.

Imagine meeting the future Nelson Mandela, the next Wangari Maathai, or the African Bill Gates. At the African Leadership Academy (ALA), this prestigious institution seeks to transform Africa by developing a powerful network of over 6,000 leaders who will work together to address Africa’s greatest challenges, achieve extraordinary social impact, and accelerate the continent’s growth trajectory.

Every fall, the academy welcomes young leaders aged 16-19 from across Africa to begin a highly selective, two-year pre-university program. Graduates often continue their education by enrolling in colleges and universities around the world, including the University of Rochester.

Visiting the ALA was a major highlight for me. The opportunity to meet and hear directly from young student leaders was inspiring. It gave me new ideas about business and the world, and underscored the degree to which young people are rising up in every continent to seize the possibilities of tomorrow.

The Grand Takeaway

Photo of safari animals.

Experiencing South Africa’s robust tourism industry with a visit to the world-renowned Kruger National Park.

After two weeks abroad, I returned from South Africa with a myriad of rich experiences and profound memories that will continue to shape my business perspectives for years to come.

This life changing trip provided a solid foundation for exploring international business possibilities and practices in an emerging nation. It immersed me in a high growth urban regeneration project in Johannesburg. And most importantly, the trek enriched my understanding and appreciation for diverse ideas and innovative ways of doing business.

An interesting moment occurred on my return flight home. As I boarded the plane in Johannesburg, I came across an inspirational billboard nearby. It read: “When you look at the world differently, you may just change it for good.”

My trek to South Africa greatly expanded my aperture of the world. As far as changing it for good, my journey towards making a lasting and meaningful impact continues.

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