Cape Town B-School Embraces Social Entrepreneurship

South Africa's oldest and most prestigious business school helps underprivileged students get ahead and teaches entrepreneurship for a continent in transition

Tinashe Chinyanga
Tinashe Chinyanga

Tinashe Chinyanga describes his childhood in Zimbabwe as fairly standard, working in the fields every morning before walking to school in a nearby village. But the rest of his education has been a world away from his village friends: boarding school, then a medical degree, and now the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business (GSB). Education was his ticket out of an early grave, says 28-year-old Chinyanga. "Most of my peers have HIV, if they're not already dead."

Chinyanga owes his more fortunate path in part to his father, who was a teacher and pushed him to succeed. But he also had the brains and the drive to get into Cape Town's GSB. The 46-year-old school is the only graduate business program in Africa to be included in the annual Financial Times global MBA rankings, and one of only two in South Africa to boast Equis accreditation, the European quality stamp for international business schools.

Cape Town's GSB also is ranked by the FT as the second-best value for money among MBA programs worldwide. (No. 1 is Coppead in Rio de Janeiro.) Students like Chinyanga from anywhere in Africa pay about $15,000 for a full-time MBA, the same rate as local South Africans. Non-African students pay $32,000. Even so, Chinyanga had to sell his car to pay for the GSB because the school has very limited resources for financial aid.

Africa Focus

Providing opportunities to underprivileged students like Chinyanga is a core premise of Cape Town's GSB. Instead of trying to compete with other MBA programs across the full spectrum of business disciplines, the school is carving out a niche by focusing on the world just outside its doorstep: a continent of emerging markets, desperately in need of managers and entrepreneurs. The student body is equally split among South Africans, other Africans, and non-Africans.

The GSB also sees as its mission to nurture social entrepreneurship. "Just as much as we have a responsibility for the education of top managers, I feel we have an equal responsibility to contribute to the alleviation of poverty, solving social problems via entrepreneurship," says Walter Baets, the school's director. Chinyanga, for instance, is hoping to leverage his GSB degree to set up a low-cost health insurance business in South Africa after graduation.

The teaching at the GSB is focused on understanding emerging-market economies, which usually exhibit high levels of uncertainty, complexity, inequality, and poverty. Baets, who left Euromed Management School in Marseille, France, to become the GSB's director last July, says he is especially pleased that the vast majority of GSB alumni stay in Africa rather than disappearing overseas. South Africa's sky-high unemployment (as much as 40% among 18- to 24-year-olds) won't be solved by waiting for outside investment, he argues. "The only way of doing it is to support people in the townships to develop their own economic businesses and help them to sustain that economic growth."

Entrepreneurship Academy

One way the University of Cape Town is tackling that challenge is through its Raymond Ackerman Academy of Entrepreneurial Development. Funded by Ackerman, the founder of South Africa's successful Pick n Pay (PKPYY) grocery chain, the academy offers a low-cost business education to 100 underprivileged teenagers from South African townships each year. With backing from Goldman Sachs (GS), a second academy recently opened in Soweto and, if further funding materializes, a virtual program, including classes offered over the Internet, will roll out across South Africa. Since the Ackerman Academy was founded in 2005, some 85% of its students have gone on to jobs, further studies, or have started their own businesses.

The next step is to expand throughout the continent, says Baets. Capitalizing on its location in South Africa—the economic gateway to Africa—the GSB intends to go beyond simply luring the continent's brightest students down to Cape Town. It is exploring partnerships with universities in Ghana, Uganda, and Tanzania to reinforce management learning in their programs, collaborate on social entrepreneurship projects, and organize MBA and PhD student exchanges. A center for social entrepreneurship, modeled on Oxford University's Skoll Center, is also in the pipeline.

Eventually achievements such as Chinyanga's may no longer contrast so starkly with those of his fellow villagers. But it's still a ways off. "I don't think they even know there's a University of Cape Town somewhere," he says. "I certainly never thought that someday I would do an MBA."

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