Robert Heath, Rupal Nayar, Alfonso Perez Grovas, and Julia Wasserman are full-time MBA students working on an International Business Development project with the South Africa-based loveLife Leadership Academy (an associate of the New loveLife Trust).
The First Days
Our first week in Johannesburg was a waterfall of informational meetings and interviews that shed light on everything we thought we understood upon arrival. One day of marathon meetings stands out in particular, though. The main event that day was with the CEO, Grace, where we presented our kick-off slide deck and initial insights to get her feedback. Her interest in the insights and perspectives we were bringing to the loveLife Leadership Academy really provided a refreshing view on the value we could provide with our combined professional and MBA experiences.
Grace’s message was ever-so inspiring, wanting to do right by the young people of South Africa and provide them with opportunities they deserve. She described loveLife’s history and evolution. She described a desire to channel the risks that youth are willing to take and transform them from negative outcomes into positive opportunities and investments into their own future as well as the community and macro economy.
The “loveLife Way”
Rather than preaching the ways of the world, loveLife inspires youth and builds their self-esteem by empowering them with the message that they too can have on the world. I think I’m most impressed by how they not only say this, but they practice it themselves. At work and in life, the concept of “sawubona” is practiced— it means “I see you.” When you walk into a room or pass someone on the street, you acknowledge each and every person regardless of position or social standing. And the sentiment is always well-received with a response of “yebo.” Historically, black South Africans were so used to being ignored and seen THROUGH that they make it a point to say this to ensure every person is seen for who they are. It is beautiful. It really just manifests in everything they do. At work, everyone has a voice, regardless of station and I absolutely love that. We haven’t encountered anyone who has been off-putting, and this environment inspires us to begin everyday nice, fresh and happy.
South African Realities
South Africa is plagued by deep injustice and historical inequality. With a current government that is hindering many social efforts that began after Apartheid and with loveLife under that government’s thumb for funding, they are incredibly grateful we are here. It feels empowering and humbling at the same time. We are using so much knowledge gained from life and the MBA in a real way, and loveLife is really looking to us to help them.
For example, just a couple of days later, our meeting with Grace was put into context when we visited a y-center (community youth centers where loveLife programming is delivered) about 3 hours from Johannesburg. During this visit, we split up and held four separate meetings with varying groups of youngsters to really go in depth about their personal experiences and their views on the programs. From this, we gained more valuable information than anyone could have imagined we would. We utilized design thinking methodologies in order to derive many significant insights as we brought our distinct interviews together.
This formed the basis of our workplan for the following week and led to completely re-shaping The Academy’s strategy for revenue generation. Over the following week, we performed even more interviews with potential customers and gathered critical demographic data and statistics to provide a solid case for each of our recommendations that included customer segmentation, pricing, positioning, communication, and product offerings. Although targeting individual learners was an original plan for the loveLife Leadership Academy, we provided a detailed plan for delaying this and re-focusing on youth already in workplace environments, offering products to companies that range from workplace integration to on-the-job training.
The delayed plan for addressing the individual learner segment coordinated nicely with our secondary project – recommendations on strategy for developing a digital platform. We used many of the same insights to define the features we recommended for this platform, features that could significantly improve learner experience and engagement as well as alleviate so many of the logistical issues of organizing and delivering programs to individuals, all while allowing The Academy to maintain even more quality control over the content. Other features of the platform further allow The Academy to take advantage of its unique position within the current educational opportunities for youth and use this in their brand strategy.
During that first visit to the Y-center, in demonstration of loveLife’s unique approach, we were greeted in the “loveLife way” with dancing ice-breakers and conversation to understand where the youths there came from and how loveLife has helped transform their lives, sublimating their natural youthful tendencies toward risk into positive actions that help them and their communities. We truly believe this unique approach can transform the future of South Africa by meeting youth’s hunger for knowledge and opportunity along with transforming the way companies and the government provide the resources and work environments that will help the society thrive. We look forward to following all of The Academy’s success over the next year!