Future economic leaders will need to deal with a rapidly changing world, particularly influenced by technology. How are SA’s business schools adapting to the situation?


A new campus in the township of Philippi, courses in development finance, innovation and big data, and an executive leadership programme that’s being showcased as top global innovation… SA’s business schools are most certainly doing more than merely adapting to the changing economic landscape. They’re driving new influences in business thinking and shaping them.

‘As we move into a more disruptive and digital world, underpinned by rapid disintermediation and sector shifts, senior leaders are compelled to explore new ways to drive growth and competitiveness in their organisations,’ says Nicola Kleyn, dean of the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) at the University of Pretoria.

‘To ensure that managers are equipped to navigate the fourth industrial revolution and understand the impact technology will have on strategy and future business models, we have introduced a range of new programmes [such as] big data [and] leading in a digital economy. This gives participants a holistic perspective of the global economy and the significant shifts as a result of technology and digital disruption.’

Associate professor Mills Soko, who took over as director of the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Graduate School of Business (GSB) at the beginning of 2017, says: ‘We have a responsibility to engage with the sociopolitical and economic context in which we find ourselves. Specifically, as a business school in an emerging market, we have been championing a focus on emerging market thinking in the past several years.

‘We will get to practice what we preach. The GSB has taken the unprecedented step of opening a new campus in Philippi, believing that our location at the V&A Waterfront is far from representative of the reality of the vast majority of South Africans.’

Philippi Village – a mixed use, 6 000 m2 entrepreneurial development zone in the Cape Flats – is UCT’s first community campus since being founded in 1829.

‘While the university has been active in township communities for decades, with field sites, mobile health services and education programmes, we have not, until now, established a presence with the long-term purpose of getting all students and stakeholders to engage and interact beyond the traditional spaces of the university,’ says Soko.

One of the forces spearheading the new township campus is the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which was set up by the GSB to infuse social impact into the curriculum. The centre assists future leaders in understanding the need to create economic, social and environmental value for an inclusive, sustainable country and continent.

In 2016, the GSB opened its Development Finance Centre to bolster the production and publication of research related to development finance – a subject that can also be studied at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB).

Meanwhile, Wits Business School (WBS) in Johannesburg has created the continent’s first Chair in African Philanthropy. The goal is to better understand the culture of gifting in Africa, and how to channel it towards growing the economy. This will be linked to the accreditation of a Master of Management (MM) in African philanthropy, MBA curriculum sessions, executive education programmes, postgraduate research, academic articles and stakeholder dialogues.

WBS has launched the Telkom Chair in Digital Business, which focuses on how organisations should manage big data for efficient production and productivity. ‘We want to be at the forefront of delivering important research and programmes essential for doing business in today’s digitised world. Public debates and masterclasses currently being held will form the basis of future degrees and courses in digital business,’ says Kalu Ojah, WBS deputy head and professor of finance.

Across SA, business schools are increasingly offering specialist academic courses, sometimes the first of their kind in Africa – for example the GSB’s pioneering MPhil in inclusive innovation.

‘We also became one of the first business schools in the world to integrate social innovation into the core curriculum of the MBA last year,’ according to Soko.

‘The MPhil will provide a more structured space to allow the application of business thinking and skills towards solving key African challenges around poverty and inequality. The true goal of innovation must be to meet real needs.’

In this context, the USB programme in futures studies must be mentioned because it remains a unique offering on the continent, striving to educate a new generation of futurists. The qualification (MPhil, postgraduate diploma and PhD) helps graduates understand the forces and trends that shape the future, taking into account Africa’s developmental challenges, such as health and education deficits and human security.

It is, however, the GIBS Nexus Leadership programme that has most recently made headlines after being selected for the global 2017 Innovations That Inspire showcase by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. The judges chose Nexus (which teaches adaptive leadership in a rapidly evolving SA context) because it demonstrates ‘the unique ways that business schools globally embrace an innovative mindset and serve as visionaries across the higher education landscape’.

Nexus is aimed at developing personal leadership skills among young leaders in business, civil society and government. It challenges them through experimental learning and dialogue to ‘lead beyond boundaries’ by finding ways around obstacles that hold themselves, others and the country back.

‘Programmes such as Nexus – and our Creating Shared Value programme, which focuses on building enduring and mutually valuable exchanges with and between an organisation’s stakeholders to mitigate pressure and manage relationships for mutual benefit – are examples of GIBS programmes that explore the realities of the current business environment to address the issue of business sustainability in our current context,’ says Kleyn.

Business schools embracing the concepts of sustainability and ethics, and integrating them into teaching and thinking, are seeing the benefits.

This is the thinking behind Henley Business School’s MBAid, its shared value initiatives programme that benefits Henley UK and Henley Africa students and the communities they work in while ‘changing the way businesses view their role in society’, according to Jonathan Foster-Pedley, dean and director of Henley Business School Africa.

‘Through MBAid, students and business executives studying through Henley UK and Henley Africa get the opportunity to learn the concepts of shared value and responsible leaderships through hands-on immersion and action-learning programmes,’ he says.

‘Twice a year for almost 10 years, Henley UK has been bringing its most able full-time and executive MBA students to South Africa to give practical application to the theoretical models learnt at Henley by working in a South African NPO as part of their MBA Reputation and Responsibility module. The MBAid programme also offers many opportunities for students from Henley Africa to engage in learning with purpose.

‘Hundreds of executives and managers doing learning programmes through Henley Africa provide strategic advice to NPOs and emerging entrepreneurs in South Africa. We believe learning can be a powerful agent for change, and that individuals – and the successful businesses and organisations they create – are the engines through which social change can be driven,’ says Foster-Pedley.

Acknowledging the developmental role of a holistic approach in educating students creates a graduate possessing leadership abilities, which adds value to their institute and society, says Jithendra Maharaj, an academic at MANCOSA.

‘Student empowerment occurs on two levels: through capacitation in the field of study, and in inculcating a sense of corporate and social governance and responsibility. Most students at business schools are in employment and hence their increased value through education is imputed almost instantly into the workplace,’ he says.

According to USB director Piet Naudé: ‘From a business school perspective, social development in South Africa happens through empowering students to understand their role as responsible leaders when they go back into society.’

He argues that SA business schools have a duty to deliver graduates who understand the context of emerging economies (specifically in Africa) and are able to find creative solutions.

‘Unlike other business schools, which focus on the top end of society, we want to plough back our knowledge right here, where we support entrepreneurs through the Small Business Academy, so that our knowledge makes a difference on the ground – changing people’s lives one by one.’

Since 2012, USB has been developing business owners in historically disadvantaged communities through its Small Business Academy, which offers training, mentoring, workshops and engaged learning with MBA and other students, and this ties in with the concept of the community campus.

The recent launch of the Philippi Village campus demonstrates emerging market-thinking in action, where a business school aims to drive – and shape – SA’s rapidly changing economic landscape.

By Silke Colquhoun
Image: Gallo/GettyImages