Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Kelley Online MBA Student Shares His South Africa Study Abroad Experience

Jonathan Pankiw, a second year Kelley Direct online MBA student, was one of 18 students who went on our recent study abroad trip to South Africa along with Faculty Chair Phil Powell and Erin Vincent, Director of Admissions and Student Services. They were all kindly hosted by the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS), one of South Africa’s top business schools. GIBS is located in Johannesburg, South Africa’s economic hub, so it was a great place for our MBA students to start their international in-residence experience. They weren’t there for very long though.

The students were tasked to help small business based 40 to 50 km outside of Johannesburg near Diepsloot, away from the usual “conveniences” that we often take for granted. Here’s what Jonathan had to say about some the challenges his team faced while working with the local business:

There were a lot of institutional voids we had to work around. For instance our client did not have access to a landline which was a requirement for getting government accreditation. He lives in temporary housing so there is no timeline on that changing; it forced us to come up with more creative solutions due to resource scarcity. These were the most challenging and rewarding because unlike in the U.S., you can’t throw money at a problem to solve it – it forced us to be innovative.

African Business Owners Dispel Student’s Negative Preconceived Notions

Despite these difficulties, or rather because of them our students gained a unique experience in an emerging region of the world while working on their management skills. Like many of us who haven’t traveled outside the tourist spots, Jonathan had some negative preconceived notions about Africa and the businesses there before the trip:

My perceptions about Africa were largely driven through how the media in US covers it, which is to say very dangerous, largely poor, and corrupt. The most striking thing to me after coming to South Africa was how nice the rich areas were and the how poor the townships were, and the close geographic proximity between the two. There is a great divide between the affluent and impoverished.

One of the surprising things about our business owner was that he had had a more robust business skill set than I would have anticipated. He had actually taken some classes on various functions and had a developed business plan for his security company. The proliferation of mobile devices has helped the poorer people catch up with the more developed world, essentially skipping a step in development (no need for physical banks, can be done on Smartphone).

Lack of Resources Forces Innovation in Emerging Markets

Working with small business in an emerging market forced our online MBA students to think outside the box and get creative. Although they may not face these same exact circumstances at work in the States, they will still be able to use the skills that came from this exercise. When asked how this experience would help him in his career Jonathan replied:

It will definitely help me, specifically in understanding and tailoring products/services to a targeted customer, especially ones that have limited economic resources. Lack of resources forces innovation and creative problem solving, skills I enjoyed developing through this class.

The true value of the course was helping me break down my own preconceived notions when it comes to doing business in other countries and selling to emerging markets. There are so many examples of multinational firms trying to sell to base of the pyramid consumers and failing miserably because they don’t understand the true needs and limitations of those customers. I personally would highly recommend everyone (and especially KD students) embark upon a similar experience as it has helped me develop a more global mindset when thinking about business.

After this experience I would love to visit South Africa again. We were unable to see Table Mountain in Cape Town this time, so that would be at the top of the list if I am able to come back.

Kelley In-Residence Experiences Help Online MBA Students Grow Network

Besides gaining a unique learning experience and an opportunity to strengthen their leadership and management skills, Kelley Direct online MBA students also benefit from the live interaction they get with their classmates. Jonathan had this to say about his classmates who went on the South Africa trip with him:

I did not know anyone entering the class, by the time we were done I felt as though I had developed excellent relationships with my classmates. One of the challenges to developing a network through an online MBA is missing out on that face to face interaction which is something that I enjoyed doing on this trip.

Kelley Direct currently has in-residence programs in seven countries in addition to two annual trips to Washington D.C. and the two in-residence “Kelley Connect Weeks” that all of our MBA students attend on the Bloomington campus. The AGILE (short for Accelerating Global Immersion Leadership Education) program has enabled us to provide our students with the opportunity to gain a global business perspective while solving real business problems with their classmates so they can develop lasting relationships.

About Jonathan Pankiw

Jonathan works for the Dannon Yogurt Company as a transport coordinator, currently located in Minster, OH. He managed outbound transportation spend for their facilities in Utah and the Pac NW and will be doing project setups for transport management of Evian Waters. He graduated from the Ohio State University in 2007 with a degree in transportation and logistics. Jonathan was born in Bolivia, and has lived in Toronto, Houston, Pittsburgh, and Columbus. Jonathan is part of the Fall 2013 Kelley Direct cohort.

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