#6 Summer 2016

To humbly go where no business school has gone before

The new GSB campus at Philippi Village

The new GSB campus at Philippi Village: Photos by Francois Swanepoel.

Megan Blair and Kuthala Kafi

Megan Blair and Kuthala Kafi of Blue Door Early Childhood Education conducting business at the Philippi Village.
The UCT Graduate School of Business (GSB) is deepening its roots and relevance as an African business school seeking to develop more socially relevant solutions by formally establishing a campus in Philippi Village.

The GSB, with its reputation for academic excellence, relevance, and purpose firmly established, is widely regarded as the leading business school in Africa. Yet, as an emerging market business school, its location at the V&A Waterfront is far from representative of the reality of the vast majority of South Africans.

Over the past five years, the school has built numerous partnerships and piloted several initiatives to cultivate an environment that tries to bridge this gap; spaces and programmes where individuals with innovative ideas can understand, build and develop solutions that are relevant for Africa. Now it is moving these one step closer to the realities of an emerging market with the establishment of a permanent base in Philippi Village – a mixed use, 6 000m2 entrepreneurial development zone at the epicentre of Nyanga, Gugulethu, Mitchell’s Plain and Khayelitsha.

Spearheaded by the GSB MTN Solution Space and the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the Philippi Campus is the first community campus to be established by UCT in its 178-year existence. While the university has been active in township communities, with field sites, mobile health services and education programmes for decades, it has not, until now, established a presence with the long-term purpose of getting all students and stakeholders to engage and interact beyond the traditional spaces of the university.

It is, in many ways, a bold step into the unknown that has to be taken with a considerable amount of humility. As a university, traditionally the ‘expert’ voice, we know in this instance, we do not have all the answers. And quite honestly, no-one knows how this will turn out.

The reality is that we live in a thoroughly divided country and city from a geographic perspective, and that creates a divide in understanding, in connections, and in networks. For many Capetonians, it can take more than 90 minutes to make their way to the school’s Waterfront campus by means of unreliable public transport to attend class or listen to a talk. The aspiration for our Philippi campus is to bridge this physical divide, certainly, and by so doing, to create a space where conversations can take place that are natural and authentic, and based on real relationships and a real understanding.

This may be difficult and uncomfortable at times – in fact, this will definitely be difficult and uncomfortable at times. But in business schools today we teach our students about the importance of learning to get comfortable with uncertainty and paradox in a complex and fast changing world – and to trust that solutions will emerge. Here at Philippi we will get to practice what we preach. Staying with and working with discomfort, we believe, will be a crucial part of forging a new reality for business and society from the ground up. As Richard Heeks proposes in his ladder model of inclusive innovation, we are seeking to move beyond inclusion of intention and consumption, where inclusive innovation seeks to address the needs and wants of an excluded group, towards inclusion of impact, process and structure, where the excluded group(s) are more actively involved in the development of the innovation and whose livelihoods are therefore more directly impacted. Philippi Village, as a development, was initiated more than five years ago with the vision of creating economic opportunity through the active inclusion of those who are excluded from the mainstream of development, and the GSB has been involved in these conversations from the outset. The founding sponsor of the Bertha Centre at the GSB, the Bertha Foundation, is one of two founding partners in the initiative; the other being a Cape Town-based NGO The Business Place. And already our students are actively engaged in working with businesses in the community. In 2016, almost all students at the school across most academic programmes will have done at least one course on the Philippi campus.

Now as we prepare to formally take our place in the community, the question that is driving our activities is how do we, as a business school, contribute to that larger vision of integrated socio-economic development? As a business school, we have a clear sense of where our strengths lie and what we have to offer in terms of understanding business and the mechanisms of business through teaching, research and engagement. But can we bring our knowledge and networks to bear where they are needed most? Can we genuinely co-create new business models that are inclusive, that empower people and communities and that have the power to shift the system?

We don’t know, but we do know that we want to try.

Right now, South Africa is at a difficult crossroads. Paradoxes abound and challenges are mounting around us. In that context we want to be a business school that is relevant and engaged, and that makes a difference in society. We can do that through developing learning programmes that produce socially conscious graduates with a new approach to doing business. We can do it through ensuring our research, undertaken by students and faculty, is both relevant and has a positive impact on society, and we can do it by creating greater access to critical business skills and support to build entrepreneurs from the ground up. But more than that, we also need to be prepared to step beyond our traditional roles of thinking and reflecting, to take our place as actors in society where we can play a role in catalysing an enabling ecosystem for inclusive development across sectors.

And while universities are not necessarily the most entrepreneurial and innovative of organisations in and of themselves, we need to be willing to take some risks, to, in effect, ‘innovate’ ourselves. We teach our students to challenge the rules and the status quo of power and exclusion by building new products, processes and models that deliver greater social value and also shift belief systems, cultures, behaviours, flows of resources and positions of authority. If we are teaching these approaches to our students, why should they not also be applied to higher education institutions themselves?

We cannot afford to be paralysed by paradox. We believe it is more important to try new approaches – even if they fail. And it is in this spirit that we take our place in the community of Philippi Village. We want to be the change the system so desperately needs.

The establishment of the Philippi campus would not have been possible without support and involvement of key sponsors including MTN (in its role as the sponsor of the MTN Solution Space); the UCT Vice-Chancellor’s Strategic Fund; and the Flanders Government funding for building a social economy, and the Bertha Foundation.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply