by Staff Reporter on 21/09/12 at 6:55 am
Thirty-four executive MBA graduates from Henley Business School in the UK recently visited Cape Town to help local NGOs as part of the business school’s MBAid programme. The term MBAid was coined by Jon Foster-Pedley, dean and director of Henley Business School, who has been deeply involved with the project since its inception in 2007, when a group of 14 students worked with two NGOs.
By this year the programme had expanded to two MBA group visits of nearly 30 students per group, working with five carefully chosen NGOs per visit. The programme aims not only to make a socially responsible contribution to society, but also to generate a sense of social responsibility among MBA students in an era when business schools are under increasing pressure to tone down their emphasis on profit-chasing in favour of ethical, socially responsible business practices.
Christopher Leighton is a sales director in the construction industry and an executive MBA student from Henley Business School. He said he had the most emotional experience of his life when visiting Cape Town for a week in which he and his fellow MBAs undertook consulting work for NGOs. “Typically on an MBA you’ve got people who are successful in their careers, who want to be even more successful. They’re hungry people. But what are we going for? What is it? Is it all about working more and getting more?” he said.
Leighton was not the only student who seemed to have had a life enhancing experience while seeing first-hand how cash and resource-strapped NGO workers struggle daily. His fellow MBA students were just as moved, especially by many South Africans’ capacity to stay positive in the face of a difficult past. Beaulah Irielle, a Nigerian working in the UK, said: “What struck me was the whole experience of teenagers not complaining about where they are; not complaining about the past.”
“The impact of apartheid is here, but they are not blaming the system. They are not allowing the system to stop them from seeking better opportunities – they continuously strive to be better people.” During the consultation process the students applied theory from the reputation and relationship management module of their course of the NGOs by consulting various stakeholders of each NGO, before reporting their findings and academically grounded suggestions to the managers and boards of the organisations.
Sam Dreyer, strategic organiser of the programme, said it was the students’ neutral perspectives and maturity (most students are in their mid-30s) that contributed to the programme’s success. “The Henley students have a lot of work experience. They are managers in their companies – some of them are directors and some of them own their own businesses,” he said.
“They come from diverse industries and it gives the NGOs access to a whole new set of thinking. They (the students) deliver a report, do a presentation and make recommendations. The NGOs themselves implement the suggestions, or don’t.” Foster-Pedley said the programme linked up to Henley’s philosophy that business schools were “servants of society”, with a need to put “purpose before profit”.
“We aim to develop people to do better jobs, as well as to aid them in becoming engaging, reflecting leaders. People need to be positive forces in society – it’s about creating value.” Apart from the MBAid programme, Henley South Africa has linked up with the private sector in similar programmes in other parts of the country.
“We work with the companies on social projects, as it’s a meaningful way to practice skills. Once that is done, the companies take the skills to in-company projects,” said Foster- Pedley. “The participants get phenomenal value out of it and become more confident and conscious leaders.”
The NGOs get just as much value out of these social programmes, making them win- win situations, as Sam Vos, director of U-Turn, an organisation for the rehabilitation and reintegration of the homeless, explained. “The cap-in-hand model, where NGOs and charities are dependent on handouts, is not sustainable anymore and professional business skills need to be brought into the sector,” he said.
“It’s beneficial to have informed, professional people with an outside perspective coming in and asking questions. There are a lot of businesses in SA that want to help, and they don’t need to hand out charity – engaging with NGOs is a good way to do it.”
“If SA business can create good models of engagement, good mechanisms where professional people can walk alongside the non-profit sector, then we will move forward much faster.”
Alexanne Tingley, operational manager of the Music Therapy Community Clinic, agreed. “It’s been an incredible journey for us to work with the Henley students. Thanks to their help we are more aware of the importance of becoming creative in finding new funding avenues,” she said.
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