2016 EMBA Trip to Johannesburg, South Africa
Nicole Zeidan and Kanchan Thaokar recently took a trip to South Africa as part of the Executive MBA program they finished this spring at Fordham. They described their experiences to Fordham IT Newsletter staff.
Who went on the trip?
A total of 36 total trip participants who came from Lincoln Center EMBA cohort 12. Accompanying them were Dr. Falguni Sen, Professor of Management Systems, and Francis Petit, Associate Dean of the Graduate School of Business.
What was the purpose of your trip?
As a final capstone project for the Fordham EMBA program, students participated in an in-depth, consulting business project with Old Mutual, a financial services company based in South Africa. Students collaborated to present potential opportunities to help Old Mutual access Islamic finance within the Muslim market in Northern Africa. We presented our findings to VP’s and other members of the company. We also took a class on HIV / AIDS: the Implications of Doing Business in South Africa, which was held at the University of Pretoria’s GIBS School (Gordon Institute of Business Science). The class was taught by professors Margie Sutherland and Nick Binedell. In addition to presenting our project on site, we benefited from cultural events and lectures in South Africa: we visited Nelson Mandela’s house, took a tour of the Apartheid Museum, and went to an Emirates Lions vs. DHL Stormers rugby game (we rooted for the Lions!).
What did you learn most as a result of doing the project?
While working on the project we had to learn about the economic and geopolitical situation in South Africa and were surprised to see how ignorant we were about the country and the problems it faces. Our class gained a lot of insight during tours throughout Johannesburg and classroom lectures on just some of the country’s issues such as poverty and the prevalence of HIV/AIDS.
Whether it was through visiting the Apartheid Museum or listening to experiences of a lady taking care of children infected with AIDS, we learned that perseverance is one of the most important qualities that one can have – life won’t always be easy. We met many people whose lives have been harder than we can fathom. Nothing seems more despairing than what the country experienced when it was under apartheid. While South Africa as a whole is a dynamic place that has some of the most beautiful areas on Earth, remnants of apartheid still exist in numerous ways.
Seeing how the local people of Johannesburg changed their situation in a positive way and tried their best at making a better life for so many others makes us appreciate the little things we take for granted. If they can do it, there isn’t anything we can’t do, so long as we learn to persevere. It overcomes almost everything.
How has this trip expanded your leadership (or other) skills?
On our trip we visited the slums in Soweto and Kliptown. People are poor and live in houses that are smaller than a Ram Van. But they are passionate about resurrecting this township and the community. They didn’t let the violence, poverty, and political unrest thwart their dreams of going to college, becoming engineers, or starting their own businesses. In Kliptown, we saw young people using computers to teach themselves and educate others on how to prevent AIDS. They even use Wikipedia books to teach kids to read. As business students, we often use the word “innovation.” After visiting South Africa, we realized that innovation is not about using new tools or technology, but about impacting society and solving unique problems. This trip taught us to challenge assumptions, change perspectives, and have an open mind to see the world differently.
Outside of the classroom we did some things on our own in other places:
Visited Cape Town
Boulder Beach to see South African penguins
Cape of Good Hope (saw baboons and an ostrich on the way there)
Table Mountain, took a sky lift to the top (approximately 3500 feet above sea level),
Went to a couple of vineyards, had wine tastings and ate amazing farm-to-table food at Spier Wine Farm.
Went to Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden
Visited Kruger National Park/Thornybush:
Saw the big 5 game animals: Elephant, Rhino, Buffalo, Leopard, and Lions.
We also got to see monkeys, impalas, giraffes, hippos, a crocodile, various birds including large vultures, and lion cubs
Went on a safari at Pilanesberg Safari
Visited Lion’s Park to pet the animals
Bungee jumped from Soweto’s Orlando Towers
June 2015 EMBA Trip to Ireland
Outside were lush emerald green grass and charming, winding roads, but inside Kanchan Thaokar and Nicole Zeidan discussed leading a global business far away from the countryside of Ireland. They and their cohort, all students in Fordham’s Executive MBA (EMBA) program, traveled together to Ireland for an onsite class last summer, from June 21-27, 2015.
“We studied global business from an Irish perspective with a focus on how the country has been recovering and moving forward from the 2008 recession,” explained Nicole, Instructional Technologist. “We studied the business environment in Ireland and learned to identify the benefits of investing in Ireland, as well as communicating those benefits.”
While Ireland has been affected by the 2008 economic downturn, it still remains a strong presence in international business. This was the core subject that students explored during their weeklong visit.
Classes were held at NUI Galway University, where students completed a course called “Gaining a Global Business Perspective in Galway, Ireland.” As Nicole explains, “We practiced key communication skills for global business, and had meetings with thought leaders across disciplines. All students had to develop a thesis based on course readings, speaker presentations, and their own experiences. We presented this thesis as a ‘CEO Pitch’ while in Galway and further developed our thinking in a business report written after the trip.”
EMBA trip participants–21 in total–came from both the Lincoln Center and Westchester campuses. Accompanying them were professor Dr. Meghann Drury-Grogan, Assistant Professor of Communications and Media Management, and Ilze Frierson, Assistant Dean and Lead Graduate Advisor of the Graduate School of Business.
Another important aspect of the trip was the immersion in Ireland’s rich culture and history.
Participants took tours of the city of Galway and the larger district of Connemara, situated in the west of Ireland.
“Galway’s hub is 18th-century Eyre Square, surrounded by brightly painted pubs that often offer live Irish folk music,” said Kanchan Thaokar, Technical Manager of Academic Computing. “Galway has unique winding lanes in the Latin Quarter, which retain portions of the medieval city walls.”
“My absolute favorite place was our drive to Kylemore Abbey via Connemara,” recalled Kanchan. “It’s the most beautiful, rustic and unspoiled place I have ever seen. Every turn of the highway brings new surprises…Rolling hills, mountains, lakes galore, bogs, rainbows; all that was missing was leprechauns!”
To contrast the quaint and medieval feel of the trip, visits to the countryside in Connemara showed evidence of Ireland’s more somber history. As Kanchan states, “Over 150 years later, the houses of the starved and exiled are everywhere; the pain of the departed (dead or immigrated) is still felt.” History is “alive in places like Connemara and other rural areas. Maybe it is the legacy of the famines which occurred [in the 1700s and 1800s]. It was there in front of us and I felt it.”
The biggest challenge, said Nicole, was not spending more time there. “The entire trip was academically enriching and culturally engaging. I wish I could have spent more than a week there. I’d like to visit the Aran Islands and Dublin.”