Chelsea Anderson recently traveled with 42 other members of the Professional MBA Class of 2019. Stops included Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa.
July 30, 2018:
Every so often in life, an opportunity arises that cannot be missed. For me, that opportunity is the international trip with my Professional MBA program at Texas A&M University. Each cohort is able to select their trip destination and my class picked South Africa. I’ve only been here three days and I can already say that we couldn’t have come to a better place.
As I begin my trip, a recurring thought has been: why am I here?Arvind Mahajan, associate dean of graduate programs, put it best when he asked us to reexamine our own biases and integrate this information to determine: What is my truth? Sunday provided our first chance to determine our truth when we attended the Apartheid Museum and afterward visited the Kliptown township in Soweto. We spent time at the Kliptown Youth Program which provides much-needed education and computer training for the youth of the township. We even got to play a quick soccer game with the KYP students.
As we toured the museum and visited Kliptown, it caused me to consider the narrative of history. Whose voices are we hearing? Whose voices do we not hear? Part of reexamining my biases is considering these voices, both in South Africa and at home in America. The purpose of this trip is to learn and grow, to move beyond my comfort zone and seek out shared values and common ground with those that I meet. It is not enough to stand on the outside and rely on my own assumptions. If I hadn’t actually gone into Kliptown and met some of the people, I never would have had the same understanding. I feel fortunate to have started this week in such a powerful way.
Aug. 3, 2018
Businesses exist all around the world, however, the manner of conducting business depends on each country and culture. As I continue my reflection, I again ask: Why am I here? In the most simple sense, I’m here to learn about international business.
Of course, it’s more complicated than that. We need to understand a culture before we try to do business in a culture. This is part of the reason we first toured the Apartheid museum and visited a township. That helped prepare our understanding before meeting with business leaders in Johannesburg.
On Monday and Tuesday, we met with business owners, entrepreneurs, and private equity firms. All the entrepreneurs had different ideas and products and the shared thread between them was passion. We visited the WIBC (Wouldn’t it Be Cool) Start-up Incubator. The WIBC gives support to young entrepreneurs and helps shepherd them through the process of starting a business.
During our roundtable sessions with the seven young entrepreneurs, I heard the word ‘journey’ many times. That is a perfect fit for both our visit that day and for business in general. It’s a journey. Rather than continue describing my visit, I think one of the entrepreneurs put it best when she said it was about “changing communities one day at a time.”
This was never more evident than with one of the start-ups, which seeks to provide fresh, quality produce to local restaurants. It seeks to reduce the food desert that exists in the neighborhood. In their rooftop garden, they have a greenhouse of about 3,000 spinach plants. From these plants, they can harvest 10 leaves per plant and earn 1.5 South African Rand per leaf. Not only is it a profitable business, it also uplifts the local community.
I can certainly say that I met my goal of learning about international business. Fortunately for me, I learned more than that. I was able to witness first hand the power of passion, and the ways that caring for your community benefits not just the company but the entire community as well.
Aug. 10, 2018
Businesses exist all around the world, however, the manner of conducting business depends on each country and culture. As I continue my reflection, I again ask: Why am I here? In the simplest sense, I’m here to learn about international business.
It feels like I just barely returned and in some ways never left. Now that I’m home I know I need to be the ambassador of this experience. Thursday and Friday were truly special days. On Thursday we visited Khayelitsha Cookies, a company that employs women from the townships. Its purpose is to provide social change and break the cycle of unemployment in the townships. Every 1,000 cookies sold employs one woman, and in turn helps her feed her family. After we met the owner we went out on the floor and helped the employees make cookies. I worked with Vuyokozi Ntantani. She has three children, two boys and one girl. She’s worked at Khayelitsha Cookies for seven years and it has changed her life, giving her access to opportunities that aren’t normally available to unskilled workers, especially women in a country with a high unemployment rate like South Africa.
That night about 30 students participated in Dine with Khayelitsha, a program that gives people the opportunity to go into the township and eat dinner prepared by a host family. In addition to the generous meal, we took part in a candid conversation about people and culture, and listened firsthand to the challenges of coming from a township.
Friday found us volunteering at iThemba Labantu, an educational and after-school program for children in the township. We broke into groups and played sports, danced, played music, or made crafts with the children. They are so talented, and I feel fortunate that they were willing to share their talents and voices with us.
As in my first two posts I return to the question: why am I here? Writing this in hindsight I ask: why was I there? The Mays Business School mission statement is to advance the world’s prosperity. Prosperity doesn’t have to be relegated to a few; the world can benefit from it. Considering the case of Khayelitsha Cookies, both the company and the female employees benefit from a mutual prosperity.
As our trip came to an end I made the rounds and asked the fellow members of the cohort to share their favorite experiences. Time and again, each person I asked had similar replies. Being able to volunteer with the children and see a glimpse into their life for a brief moment affected our lives forever. The other common refrain was that the highlight was all the wonderful people we met. Offering service is not a one-time thing. As Aggies we should live our lives in service, being good Aggies to all those we meet. After speaking to my classmates I feel confident that each and every one of us will move forward in service following this trip.
For the final time I’ll ask: why were we there? Was it to learn about international business? Most certainly. But on a much bigger scale, we were there to learn about ourselves. And as Dr. Mahajan stated at the beginning of our trip, we were there to learn our truth and then challenge it. Over the course of eight days we were stretched and challenged, molded and reformed. Moving forward, it is incumbent on us to take this new truth and share it with everyone who asks about our trip. That responsibility means that we don’t take these experiences like souvenirs and place them on a shelf. For it to be truly transformative we need to take it into our hearts and lives and be better people, better Aggies.