When I signed up for the South Africa study tour, led by Professor Cliff Oswick, my decision was based  on feedback from several alumni who had given me glowing reviews about this elective – I knew then that it was an experience I couldn’t miss out on.

Before donning our student hats, a group of us arrived in Johannesburg from Dubai, two days prior to the tour, to get a flavor of, what is arguably South Africa’s most vibrant city. We spent a terrific day in the Pilanesberg National Park and Sun City, we watched the beautiful sunset on our way back and spent the evening exploring the nightlife scene and experiencing local cuisine.

 The study tour

The programme commenced with a tour of the historic township of Soweto. We visited the Hector Pieterson Museum and Nelson Mandela’s old house, a squat, red-brick dwelling that has now been converted to a museum. Mandela’s house brings history to life; every room and every corner tells a story about his struggles and triumphs and how he sacrificed his freedom for the dignity of his people.

As a Palestinian, the struggles of black Africans resonated with those currently living in my hometown of Palestine.

It was overwhelming to be in the house of my idol leader who changed the history of black Africans and inspired the entire country to move from the unjust system of apartheid into a brighter and more peaceful future.

During the remainder of the week, we paid visits to various businesses and not-for-profit organisations in Joburg and Capetown, from educational institutions such as Harambee and the Gordon Institute of Business Science to large corporations like Pick n Pay.

We also met senior executives and truly inspiring speakers who gave us a better understanding of the history of South Africa, its economy, politics, sustainability, business opportunities and challenges.

Two prominent problems were raised in almost every meeting we attended: the state of the educational system and youth unemployment. I have to admit that the commitment displayed by the leaders to tackle those issues was inspiring. It was amazing to see how these leaders have adopted Mandela’s values and ethics in their businesses.

One of the most impressive organisations we visited was Harambee, which means ‘pull together’. As an accelerator designed to tackle youth unemployment, Harambee offers a range of training programmes to provide young people with the necessary practical skills and knowledge to find work opportunities. As part of our tour of Harambee, we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to interview several students.

With big, bright smiles on their faces, the students shared with us their stories, challenges and hopes for the future. Additionally, they shared their views on leadership and the positive impact they would like to have within their society when they eventually get the right work opportunity. Despite the challenges they face on a daily basis, it was incredible to see how determined they are to create better lives for themselves.

Towards the end of the study tour and after a very busy week, we went on a well-deserved boat cruise to soak up the superb views around Table Mountain Bay in Cape Town – it was a wonderful way to end this memorable trip.

I came back from the tour with profound lessons, great memories and new friends. It’s incredible that a study tour in a foreign country can change you in ways you never imagined possible – this is what made the Cass MBA South Africa elective an extraordinary experience.

 

Reem Awad 
Dubai Executive MBA (2018)