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Learning, impact and change from one global experience

In December 2019, a group of 21 Daniels students traveled to Cape Town, South Africa, as part of the MBA@Denver online program. The students participated in an immersion in Cape Town, which focused on exploring the concepts of emotional, cultural and contextual intelligence followed by interacting with some of South Africa’s premier business leaders.

During the eight-day trip, students visited with several organizations and businesses including MonkeyBiz, Newlands Brewery, Perspective Investment Management, Pick-n-Pay, RLabs, Sealand Gear, Velokhaya Life Cycling Academy and Villiera Wines.

They arrived, as we all do upon landing in a new place, with preconceived ideas, assumptions and, most importantly, open minds. One week later, here’s what they had to say:

Dan Conrado:
As a small business owner, I am always fighting for the “American dream” and capitalism. In the past, I have been opposed to excessive taxes on the wealthy and corporations, not because I am part of those classes, but I feared the incentive would no longer be there for success and innovation. However, after seeing the major contrasts between the upper and lower classes in Cape Town, along with the presentations from people like Simon Grier, co-founder of  Villiera Wines, I understand that we can and should do better.

During the tour of the Villiera Winery, I was struck by just how much of an impact a company can have on the community and environment. It was amazing to see the efforts the family-owned firm was putting forth out of the goodness of their hearts. It astonished me that they were reclaiming old vineyards and mined lands while being forward thinking about the vegetation by planting trees rather than native grasses to offset their carbon footprint.

As the president and partner of a mining company, I know that reclamation costs and activities are great, and we certainly have a large carbon footprint, but I had never thought about planting trees. We’ve always just followed the standards set out by our mine plans and the Bureau of Reclamation. Our company is currently permitting another parcel of land for mining and this will certainly be a topic I would like to discuss with our consultant, Colorado Bureau of Reclamation, my business partner, and neighboring landowners.

Cape Town has made an impression on my heart and mind that will forever be with me. I’m so grateful that I stepped onto that jet Dec. 4, 2019. My life will never be the same.

Rosemarie Escalante:
I am bringing home with me a confidence to do more for my community than ever before. This experience will be noted in my personal history as the best possible investment I could have made during my MBA education.

James Gallardo:
Upon my return from this life-changing trip to Cape Town, South Africa, I have realized how very small my issues are compared to the world, and more important, I have truly learned how very large of an impact one individual can have on the world.

The narrative in today’s world is that the world is getting smaller. I thought I had agreed with this narrative. The world is small to those who have access, but following my trip to South Africa, I do not believe the people that live in the shanty towns of Cape Town feel our closeness.

Jennifer Hayes:
I learned that you can connect with a group of strangers quickly and feel like you have known them for 10 years even though you spent less than 10 days with them. I learned that there is good in every day, no matter how challenging, and I had a little piece of hope and faith in humanity restored.

Tom Moldovan:
Cape Town was full of surprises and marvels, yet the most important lesson came from the reinforcement of a previously held belief, “Doing good is good business.”

Our visit to Pick-n-Pay and meeting Suzanne Ackerman, a woman of both inspiring power and kindness, was the highlight of the Cape Town trip for me. Nurtured by the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam, Pick-n-Pay is a family-run business that tries to truly be socially responsible. The company views corporate social responsibility as not just something a business should do but something a business must do. Not only is Pick-n-Pay socially and environmentally engaged, it tries to inspire others, to create entrepreneurs and it welcomes competition. Yet they are wildly successful and a money-making retail machine. The ultimate proof that doing good benefits companies in the long run. So, I learned what I want is possible.

Monica Rosenbluth:
This week, I am renewed by faith in the power of one, so to speak. I did not know a lot about South Africa before this experience, so I didn’t come to the country with many preconceived ideas. Over the past few years, my belief in the notion that each individual action can add up to a collective impact has waned and my enthusiasm for the public process has faltered. This week changed my mind about that as I saw that each of the companies we visited was part of a larger movement that was gaining momentum in the country as a catalyst for change.

Kirsten Runyan:
As part of the MBA@Denver program, two weeks ago, I declared a concentration in international business. I discovered I have an interest in business in terms of globalization and how business is conducted in other parts of the world. Part of this decision stems from my own experiences at a global company but also partly from my experiences in Cape Town, South Africa.

Nate Wellein:
What I found in South Africa were leaders who embodied a sense of purpose surrounding the value system they created for themselves and for their companies. The values they embodied were born out of a sense of duty to those who were forgotten and marginalized.

It is easy to address right and wrong in hindsight but having to make that decision in real time presents the potential for dire consequences. These businesses and business leaders took it upon themselves to create real change based on the values they developed for themselves and for their families. Even more profound was the continued legacy of those values.

Sometimes it takes an experience as profound as this trip for me to seriously evaluate my personal constitution and understand what it truly means to be socially and personally responsible. Without hesitation, I can say that my trip to South Africa has been one of the most rewarding and meaningful experiences of my life. It has impacted my perspective of leadership and how to be a steward to humanity. Truthfully, I wish to harness the emotions and experiences I had in Cape Town and keep the energy I collected on this trip.

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Please visit DU’s COVID-19 website and subscribe to @uofdenver Twitter for updates regarding COVID-19.