SIB South Africa – Day 3

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.

We began our Wednesday with a breakfast talk at our hotel by Dr. Brian Ruff. Dr. Ruff is a trained rhuematologist who now works as an internal consultant/strategist for Discovery Health in Johannesburg. He explained the division between private and public medical practices within South Africa. 20% of the country is considered Middle Class, and that class is divided 50/50 between blacks and non-blacks. However, the black middle class does not have the advantage of generations worth of assets, and yet they have a broader responsibility to provide care for family and friends who are trying to better themselves.

During Apartheid, there were separate publicly-funded hospitals for blacks, whites, Indians and colored people. Once democracy came in to view the hospitals needed to be recreated in the private sector, which is a huge undertaking, especially for the hospitals that historically served the lower-income communities. In addition, under Apartheid, private insurance wasn’t necessary because routine visits to the doctor’s office were planned ahead of time and paid for at the time of service. For emergencies, people could buy insurance on a mutual fund basis, on a not-for-profit basis. It seemed that the medical service sector was more equitable and stable during Apartheid because of state funding.

On top of the change in funding and administration, the HIV/AIDs epidemic hit South Africa head-on in the 1990’s. 1% of the country’s population was diagnosed with the disease in 1990, which skyrocketed to a shocking 10% of the population by 1999. Currently, about 12% of the population lives with HIV/AIDS. The disease has stopped its exponential spread thanks in great part to the foreign investment in clinics and services for this population.

In 1997, Discovery Health launched Vitality, an insurance buy-up program that was meant to get people to care about their health today, and therefore decrease their need for medical procedures 15-20 years in the future (a benefit for both the insurance providers as well as the people themselves). The company forges connections with health clubs, smoking cessation services and weight management programs to offer low-cost benefits to its subscriber base. Each person who is enrolled in the program is assigned a color, which changes to reflect increasing and decreasing health status based on the number of times he/she visits the gym, attends health classes and participates in other health-related programs during the month. It has become so popular, that Dr. Ruff noted people often brag about their assigned “colors” at parties! Members who are very active also get access to perks that include discounted airfare and car rentals. I was impressed with this plan and hope that the trend catches on in the US soon, because I would definitely sign up.

Our next visit was Vodacom. Mr. Tshepo Ramodibe greeted us with a high-level overview of Vodacom’s operations in South Africa. Something that stood out to me was the idea of dynamic pricing – wherein calls during certain times of the day cost less than others. This pricing practice encourages people to carry 4+ SIM cards that take advantage of different time zones in the world on Vodacom’s network, which ends up costing the consumer practically nothing for the calls they make. Fascinating! Also, Mr. Ramodibe mentioned that there were initiatives within rural communities where Vodacom sets up networks and solar panels at community service centers, like schools or police stations. For villages without access to electricity, these networks offer local power supplies that are priceless, but also anchors the user base to Vodacom’s network.

Another interesting initiative in which Vodacom is promoting is M-Pesa, a service that utilizes mobile networks and local businesses for person-to-person money transfers. In case you’re wondering about the name, M-Pesa means “money” in Swahili. The service is hosted by a bank, and allows African customers (the majority of whom are in Kenya and Tanzania) to transfer money to relatives across the country, as well as merchants and neighbors, by using a mobile phone and verification codes to help eliminate fraudulent activity. The interest earned on the float of money within the system is put in to the M-Pesa Foundation’s account, which is then funneled back into the villages within the network. Well-done, Vodacom.

Our next stop was a visit to Soul City. At this company, we were welcomed by Bongani Ndlovu, who is the Senior Manager for Media. After letting us know that his name means “Give Thanks for Elephants”, he introduced us to his wonderful organization. The main focus of Soul City is to promote a reduction of sexual partners and an increase of condom use within the country of South Africa, in order to change the tide of teenage pregnancy and the spread of HIV/AIDS. To realize this mission, Soul City has written, produced and published television dramas since June 1994. The topics of the shows are determined by the epidemics faced by the nation’s people – from AIDS and the risks of having more than one partner, to alcohol abuse and the consequences around that behavior. The television dramas aim not to preach or judge, rather cast a spotlight on certain behaviors that can be used as discussion catalysts within communities.

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Haas Students & Instructors at Soul City, Johannesburg

The shows take 14 months to develop before they are released to viewers. Each show’s review process includes multiple private screenings, to assure that the shows are on-target with viewer expectations. Soul City reaches 27 million viewers – which is remarkable, given South Africa has 51 million people within its borders. Such viewership is unprecedented.

Bongani really reached our hearts when telling us about Soul Buddyz, which is a program run for kids aged 8 through 14. The topics of these programs include race discrimination, inappropriate adult contact and bullying, among others. Kids are really getting behind these programs – for instance, one group of young boys wrote in to the studio to ask whether they could produce a show around the life of one of their friends, who was albino. The kids were hoping to cast a spotlight on their friend in hopes of helping others understand that their friend is no different than anyone else. Soul City picked up the story and cast the group in an anti-discrimination commercial that was widely-viewed.

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Entrance/Exit to Soul City

On the ride back to the hotel, I was thinking about the change management that Soul City was taking upon itself. The scope is just enormous, and changing any long-standing behavior across the masses is no small undertaking. I give the team a lot of credit for what they are doing. It sounds like they found a popular way to convey their messages, and I am really cheering for their future success.


After our visit to Soul City, several students went shopping at a local mall, while others returned back to the hotel to rest before dinner. We were due on a super-early morning flight to Cape Town the next day, but we still celebrated our last night in Jozi in true Haas spirit.

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