Throughout our time in South Africa, students on DBi Cape Town were often greeted with a friendly Molweni—or ‘welcome’—in Xhosa, one Cape Town’s many languages. This greeting was commonly heard in Cape Town’s townships—segregated urban areas on the periphery of the city where many were displaced during apartheid. During our two weeks of learning with the University of Cape Town, Stern students spent considerable time in the townships and learning about life and business in the diverse areas of Cape Town.
The commonly considered landscape of Cape Town includes the waterfront, the easily identifiable 2010 World Cup stadium, and the beautiful nature of Table Mountain and its surrounding national park. But beyond the tourism of Cape Town’s central district is a side to the city—and all of South Africa—that cannot be experienced as a tourist. DBi Cape Town delved deep into the political, economic, and social tensions that exist in South Africa. The immersive experience of the DBi allowed us this opportunity and opened our eyes.
With a focus on Social Impact Investing, we talked a lot about business opportunities at the “Base of the Pyramid,” a term used to describe the 2.7 billion people who live on less than $2.50 per day. A big takeaway for most of the students was that we tend to think about the addressable market of our own businesses in a bubble. We learned that there are big business opportunities beyond our comfort zone in all fields.
One of the valuable lessons that we learned through our time in the townships is that while entrepreneurs may use different business language, they often face similar challenges—regardless of geography or economic strata. Whether talking with a shop owner in a township or a start-up founder in the center of Cape Town, their issues of profitability, driving demand, or having a marketing strategy were the same as our experiences here in New York – just with a different vocabulary. DBis help to break down some of those stereotypes or unknowns.
Outside the classroom, we visited local businesses across a variety of industries. We discussed food security and the mining industry—two industries impacting life for many Capetonians. We learned about the water shortage that is currently impacting everyone in Cape Town, with “Day Zero” rapidly approaching on May 11th. Cape Town will be the first major city to run out of water.
We visited cultural sites like the Company’s Garden, built by the Dutch settlers in the 1650s and grew fresh produce to replenish ships rounding the Cape. We spent an afternoon on Robben Island—our tour guide had spent time there himself as a political prisoner, alongside Nelson Mandela. We spent one afternoon in the beautiful region of Constantia Valley, sampling wines from a few local vineyards.
Over the long weekend, half of our DBi group flew to Kruger for a safari. Throughout the weekend, we enjoyed game drives, a day trip to Kruger National Park, and a river boat cruise to see hippos. We got up close and personal with elephants, giraffes, zebras, and even followed a lion and leopard through the game park. Many of the students also enjoyed the nature around Cape Town, hiking Lion’s Head, taking in the Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens, and exploring the beach town of Hermanus.
The best way to fully gain an understanding of any culture is to spend time in it. As MBA students, our lives and jobs have become progressively more global. To truly be able to “Do Business in…”, it’s imperative to understand the cultures where we do business through an immersive experience. DBis offer the unique opportunity to interact with local professors, business leaders and community members. These experiences prepare us as future business leaders to deal with situations that can happen across geographic borders.