Anne Sromek is a third-year student in the EWMBA program at Haas, and one of 20 students enrolled in Seminars in International Business: South Africa during the Spring 2014 semester. Class instruction is led by Doy Charnsupharindr, Professor Mark Rittenberg, and Ingrid Gavshon. The 2-unit course is comprised of several pre-trip evening meetings at Berkeley, during which students explored South African history, business, political climate and culture through guest lecturers and selected readings. The students also spend one week abroad to solidify the lessons learned and connect with a country outside of their own.
This blog is assembled from the experiences and musings of the author for the purpose of showcasing the SIB experience for prospective students and future SIB participants.
Tuesday brought a very packed schedule. Our day began at Power FM where we met our hosts from MSG Afrika Investment Holdings, Andile Khumalo, CIO and Given Mkhari, CEO. Power FM is just one of their many business ventures. The station runs radio talk segments on current events and hot topics that directly effect South Africa’s black communities.
Power House, home of Power FM Radio
Both Given and Andile are entrepreneurs whose upbringing and education shaped them in to leaders. Andile explained that when he was growing up (near Durban, South Africa), it didn’t seem strange to miss school because of warfare in his village. After reading biographies of CEOs, Andile decided to pursue a career as a chartered accountant, noting that most CEOs had accounting or engineering backgrounds. Thanks to a bursary from Deloitte, he finished his studies and spent several years in the United States as an auditor. He then returned to South Africa to work for Investec Bank.
Given’s education was sponsored by his homeland. He studied to become a history teacher and started a radio station on his university’s campus. He also studied International Relations abroad at Bard College, where he tried to start another radio station, but gave up due to the bureaucracy he encountered. After his studies, Given worked at a radio station in Manhattan, at Castle Rock Entertainment as a producer in Los Angeles, and at Sony Entertainment in the Artist Management Division before moving back to South Africa in 1997.
The men became business partners after meeting at an Investec function, and admit that the opportunity they were presented with in their business was extremely special. 80% of the South African population is black, and that 80% is under-served by existing media. Both men believe that the radio stations they have built provide an education service to the disenfranchised majority of the black population. Given likened South African democracy for the poor to a situation where a person is given the rights to play a sport, but no equipment with which to play. If given the right equipment – which includes a solid education, provided by the government – the poor population can begin to prosper under democratic rule. Once that is established, there is a need for early-stage venture funding so that businesses can begin and grow, since entrepreneurs can’t always rely on friends and family for seed capital.
SIB participants with Given Mkhari (left) and Andile Khumalo (right) at Power FM Studios
Haas students were given a tour of the studio, and the station interviewed Professor Rittenberg on the air. We were grateful to have had a chance to visit the station and we left feeling very upbeat and positive about the efforts that Andile and Given were making toward a better, more informed South Africa.
Our next stop of the day was Harambee. Helen Smith, who had been with the company since its inception three years ago, gave us a detailed account of the not-for-profit organization and what it hopes to achieve in the future. The organization’s mission is to help match unemployed South African youth with open entry-level jobs. Unemployment is high (over 25% in South Africa over-all) and yet so many entry-level jobs are left unfilled. The companies who have these job openings often complained that it was a huge risk to take on students who possess a School Leaver’s Certificate, or the equivalent to a high school diploma in the United States, because the students had no real-world experience. A vicious cycle ensues, wherein a diploma holder can’t find work because he has no work experience. This is where Harambee can help.
Harambee accepts applications for its 8-week training program, which is designed to help talented but disadvantaged South African youth build skills in math, business communication and English language. Students are also taught how to make better decisions around emotional impulses within a work environment, and receive demerits for tardiness and absenteeism in order to instill the importance of punctuality. Based on their job preferences, students are then put in to simulations for their chosen industry. For instance, hospitality students are tasked with customer interactions (some of which are difficult) and various management styles to help them understand what they will face at a full-time job. Once students complete their 8 weeks of training, they are given the chance to interview for up to two jobs from outside firms who seek entry-level hires from Harambee’s job listings. Those who are successfully placed with a company are tracked for a year, because Harambee found that students who hold a job through their first year in the workforce have an 85% chance of lifelong employment.
Haas Students in theHarambee Lobby
Harambee’s next ventures include creating a “step up” program with the help of corporate sponsors. This program will bridge the employment gap for the many hopeful students who are not admitted to the main program because of low entrance assessment scores. If the applicants show promise, the bridge program will help improve their skills and therefore their performance on the assessment on a future attempt.
We heard from five Harambee graduates who finished the 8-week program and now work full-time at Harambee headquarters, doing administrative work and instructing newly admitted teams of students. Having completed the program, these young adults are well-suited to help the incoming classes reach their full potential. The personal stories of these five accomplished young adults filled me with awe. These people are not afraid of working hard. They admitted that the classes were very challenging, and that it would have been easier for them to give up on the program. They instead chose to work hard and achieve their goals. The entire Haas group was so inspired by these students and their ambitions.
After a delicious lunch at Harambee, Haas students visited the Apartheid Museum. We had two hours to walk through the exhibits. Having read books about Apartheid and Nelson Mandela as pre-work for the in-country portion of the trip, it was very affecting to see the museum exhibits and movies. The stark museum itself is a work of art. Visitors are encompassed by looming walls, barren courtyards, dead-end paths and jail cell-like exhibit rooms. It was a memorable and haunting experience for me.
Entrance to the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg
We also had a chance to drive through Soweto, which stands for South West Township. This was the area that where the black population was approved to live under Apartheid. We drove past the modest Soweto homes of Nelson Mandela and Bishop Tutu, both of which are on Vilakazi Street. We also visited the Hector Pieterson Memorial and learned about the tragic shootings that occurred in Soweto in 1976. At that time, a protest was begun by high school students against the mandate of Afrikaans language in local schools. Violence erupted as police opened fire into the group of protesters. Over 550 people were killed in the violence that ensued. Hector Pieterson was the first student who was shot in the incident.
Hector Pieterson Memorial in Soweto
After a quick dinner at Nex Dor restaurant on Vilakazi Street, we had the great fortune of attending a play at the historic Market Theatre in Johannesburg. The play, titled “A Human Being Died That Night”, told the story of a female psychologist named Pumla Gobodo-Madikisela, who visited Eugene de Kock in prison on several occasions. de Kock was sentenced to two lifetimes plus 212 years in jail for the 89 murders he committed during Apartheid. He testified to his crimes at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1994.
We returned to our hotel close to midnight. It was a very full day, but a very successful, emotional and inspiring day nonetheless.