Mays Business School students have traveled for the past five years across the Atlantic to take part in a faculty-led winter trip to South Africa and Swaziland. Led by Clinical Professor of Management David Flint and Clinical Assistant Professor of Information and Operations Management Matthew Manley, students spend part of their winter break in South Africa visiting local businesses and national parks. Then they travel to the neighboring country of Swaziland to learn about the non-profit orphanage Bulembu, the businesses that support it, and the challenges of Swaziland’s market environment.

“I thought it was a really interesting combination of not-for-profit work, developing market conditions, and entrepreneurship, so they encouraged me to go visit,” Flint said as he recalled the suggestion from some of his church friends to visit Bulembu.

After visiting the orphanage in the summer of 2013, he came back with a vision of guiding a group of Mays students through South Africa and Swaziland to enhance their cultural understanding and global mindset. 

“The purpose of the trip is to discover how business education and skills can be brought to bear in solving very real and pressing social issues,” Manley said in describing the business aspect of the trip. “There are problems to solve, there is a real urgency, and there are people who are committed to working out the solutions.”

“What I hope is that the students get a sense of the challenges of trying to do business in those kinds of environments,” Flint said. “Even though there is still accounting and finance, doing business is still a different experience. Even different between South Africa and Swaziland.”

“There are still opportunities,” Flint added. “Just in a different context.”

Transformational experiences 

This trip is not all strictly business. Students are able to enjoy fun excursions to see African wildlife and visit with locals. In Bulembu, students are given the option of summiting the tallest point in Swaziland, Mount Emlembe. They also spend time with the children participating in sports and other fun activities. These interactions provide transformational experiences for both the Aggies and the children of Bulembu.

“One of the most common transformations I have witnessed is a greater humility, a real sense of gratitude, and the desire to make a difference in the world,” Manley said. “There are many dimensions to these feelings, but they stem from the stark contrast between rich and poor communities, the history of oppression and modern struggles for freedom, and the opportunity to love and serve others in Bulembu.”

Flint said those interactions have a big effect on the young people in Bulembu. “When they hear about your experiences and backgrounds, and they begin to realize they’re not that different from you…. I think opening up their eyes and having those interactions is also part of advancing the world’s prosperity in a little corner of Swaziland called Bulembu,” he said.

It is this embodiment of Mays’ vision that attracts students to this immersive and transformational trip. Inspired by this vision, students were able to raise enough money before the most recent trip to purchase new playground equipment for the children of Bulembu. University Studies Business graduate Claire Lynch ’18 reflected on what this new playground meant for the children of Bulembu:

“I’m so glad we were able to raise the money for this,” said Lynch. “Not only will it be a new place for the kids to play, but it will be a place where many friendships are formed and fun memories are made. So many lessons are learned on the playground and luckily we were able to have a hand in that!”

“There a lot of common bonds,” said Flint commenting on the similarities between the students he takes on the trip and the people they interact with in Bulembu. “There are differences, but people have a lot of the same desires, a lot of the same fears… I hope they see that the people of Bulembu are trying to do business, but for bigger causes than just to be in business. It’s not necessarily just about putting money in the bank. In the case of Bulembu, they are trying to transform a nation. By providing the environment, education, and experiences, and entrepreneurial mindset, this Bulembu experience might transform a nation.”

Note: The faculty-led trip to South Africa for this year is currently full. Applications for next year will open in March.