#5 Winter 2016

The case for African case studies

The case for African case studies.

Aunnie Patton, Innovative Finance Lead at the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the GSB, teaches one of the new cases on innovative finance created in collaboration with the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School.
The UCT Graduate School of Business is investing in the development of local case studies that will result in the largest body of Africa-focused business learning material to date.

Much has been written about Wendy Luhabe, one of South Africa’s most powerful and respected businesswomen. But these articles don’t offer much to those who wish to learn in greater depth how she succeeded despite numerous disadvantages; and what distinguishes her leadership style and entrepreneurial vision.

Fortunately, there is a case study on Luhabe at the UCT Graduate School of Business (GSB). The school is investing heavily in the development of local case material, most recently with the establishment of a new case study centre at the school. Established with funding from the Harvard Business School (HBS) Alumni Club, which was matched by a contribution from the GSB, the new centre will build on existing efforts at the GSB to facilitate the writing and publishing of peer-reviewed business case studies on doing business in emerging markets and the various challenges and opportunities that this presents.

The need to promote the development of local case studies is often heard in academic circles. At the recent African Academy of Management Conference in Nairobi, Kenya, there was much talk about how to go about developing local materials as well as a ‘decolonisation’ of the curriculum. For many, there is simply too much of a focus on Western case studies and textbooks.

But writing case studies is not a straightforward task. Case studies are not traditional research, which most academics are used to. So it isn’t simply a matter of tasking academics with writing more case studies. Some academics might need guidance on how to formulate these documents and they may need instruction on how to supervise students who are writing case studies.

The ideal is to develop case studies that are not only used locally, at business schools in South Africa and Africa, but elsewhere in the world. After all, if global business wants to operate successfully in emerging markets, it too will need to have access to quality African case studies.

This is certainly the objective of the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship, a specialised unit at the GSB, which is collaborating with several international business schools and other organisations in the generation of local material that will have a universal appeal.

Work, for example, with the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School is resulting in the development of several new teaching case studies on innovative finance in Africa that are drawing interest from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, New York University’s Stern School of Business, Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business, and Strathmore University among others. To date, 12 cases have been written focusing on 18 social impact enterprises and 16 funds from 11 countries across the continent and tackle issues such as access to housing, health, finance, education, water, sanitation and hygiene. There are also case studies on innovative financing vehicles such as diaspora bonds, crowd funding, blended finance, micro finance, peer lending, social insurance products, quasi equity, and trade credit for SMEs.

Additionally, the Bertha Centre is collaborating with Harvard Business School to generate cases on social entrepreneurship to teach on the centre’s new Social Entrepreneurship course, and work with Rotterdam School of Management has yielded a seminal study on innovative local startup RLabs. A collaboration with Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Saïd Business School and the World Health Organisation has seen the development of 25 studies on innovative healthcare delivery solutions.

All in all, the centre has generated close on 50 studies in the past few years.

Aunnie Patton, Innovative Finance Lead at the Bertha Centre believes the contribution of these case studies to entrepreneurial education cannot be underestimated. “We view the publication of these case studies as a pioneering endeavour that will advance students’ understanding of the particular context and challenges for ventures with social purpose in African countries and look forward to their wide dissemination,” she said.

Through its efforts, the GSB is seeking to develop the largest body of Africa-focused teaching material on the continent. This is an exceptional investment and a potential game-changer when it comes to business education in Africa. Investing in local material means that African business education is where it should be when it comes to business in Africa; leading, not following.

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