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DBi South Africa January 2020: Economic Opportunity in Africa and What We Owe to Each Other

By Gage Kaefring

Stepping off the 16 hour flight from Newark to Cape Town, I was woefully ignorant of the situation that gripped South Africa. I had read (some) of the pre-reading assigned to us for the course and I knew of the oppressive apartheid regime that had controlled the country before the early 1990s, but I had no true concept of the ripple effects created by that regime and the real human toll on those still dealing with the aftermath. Of course, logically, I should have realized that a system so oppressive and long would take many generations to reverse but I had not, for whatever reason, really considered the implications.

I did not know, for example, that South Africa faced an estimated unemployment rate of nearly 30%, particularly among young workers. I did not know that the national power grid was in a state of decay that meant scheduled blackouts disrupted the daily lives of many in the cities. I did not know that even those who were earning well above a livable wage in the country were financially strapped to purchase a ticket to Europe or the United States, given both the distance and the unfavorable exchange rate between the South African rand and other international currencies. Luckily, the Doing Business in South Africa course was well designed to give us at least an introductory look at the nuances of the situation. Given the disparity around us the next obvious question the course sought to address was “what can we do about it?” The answer, unfortunately, wasn’t so obvious. The magnitude of the problems to be addressed seemed insurmountable, especially for an individual.

In the NBC sitcom The Good Place, viewers are walked through complex arguments about moral philosophy in truly ridiculous fashion. One of the characters, the bookish and often obnoxious Chidi Anagonye, teaches the other characters the famous phrase, “what we owe to each other”. This was first espoused by the philosopher T.M. Scanlan and it summarized his belief that humankind was obligated to help one another, that cooperation and support were the keys to our physical and moral survival. This simple lesson was likely not the one we were intended to learn during this course, but it was my main takeaway from my time in Cape Town. 

Yes, the structural problems facing society today are intimidating, but as business students we are well equipped to tackle them. We have been gifted with an incredible opportunity and this gift comes with the obligation create as much of a positive impact on the world as we are able. For me, that means finding one area you are passionate about and getting involved, either through the work you are doing or during your incredibly precious free time. The world cannot afford for its future business leaders to refrain from taking a stand. We owe it to each other to make that stand a strong one.

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