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Henley’s MBA students experience responsible leadership in action in SA

It is not often in today’s environment that you find a business that cares, a business school with heart, that is leading change, and making a difference in the lives of not only its students but also the broader community.

That is exactly what Henley Business School is doing through MBAid, its shared value initiatives programme that benefits Henley UK and Henley Africa students and the communities they work while changing the way businesses view their role in society.

Through MBAid, students and business executives studying through Henley UK and Henley Africa get the opportunity to learn the concepts of shared value and responsible leaderships through ‘hands-on’ immersion and action learning programmes.

Twice a year for almost 10 years, Henley UK has been bringing its most able full-time and executive MBA students to South Africa to give practical application to the theoretical models learnt at Henley by working in a South African non-governmental organisation (NGO) as part of their MBA Reputation & Responsibility module.

These MBAid programmes, says Dr Helen Stride, a lecturer at Henley UK and lead tutor in reputation and responsibility, help to instil the kinds of values needed for leaders to guide their organisations ethically.

“While we can try to instil the kinds of values needed for our students to develop a moral compass, nothing beats being immersed in a not-for-profit (NPO) that operates with a very different set of values than those that drive most commercial enterprises. This gives our students an opportunity to see responsible leadership in action, something many are not ordinarily exposed to. Seeing organisations that are devoted to servicing others rather than being committed to profits has a really profound effect on the students, who begin to recognise the importance of creating a more caring, sympathetic and compassionate culture in their places of work, and also recognise their responsibility to the wider community.”

And indeed, this is the experience Cameron Smith, Director at LDPS Consulting and executive MBA student at Henley UK, who was among the latest crop of MBA students to spend a week with four NGOs in Cape Town recently. Between 400 and 500 MBA Henley UK MBA students have worked with more than 40 South African NGOs in and around Cape Town in the past nine years.

“Working with an NGO has given me an appreciation that other people don’t live the same life that I do and that not everything is a business challenge  - that you have to look beyond the traditional business context, beyond profit and loss to the social, community and individual impact that business can have. The MBAid programme has definitely influenced the way I will approach business moving forward as I now have a greater appreciation of things like corporate social responsibility that perhaps in the past did not weigh as heavily on my mind as they should have,” he commented.

The week spent in Cape Town in November 2016, followed six weeks of intense engagement between the students and the NGOs. The students were tasked with assessing their assigned NGOs in the context of clearly defined and agreed to parameters, pointing out successes and challenges, and coming up with recommendations as to how the NGOs could enhance their operations and better deal with challenges to improve their performance.  The research findings form part of a 5000-word management report that each NGO receives. The report also serves as an academic document on which the students are assessed as part of their academic studies.

Professor Kevin Money, Director of the John Madejski Centre for Reputation and the Director for Research in the School of Marketing and Reputation at Henley UK, says that from an academic perspective, the process enables Henley’s MBA students to apply the theories and models created and published by academics at the University of Reading and Henley Business School in a practical way.

 “What you’re seeing here,” says Professor Money, “is relationship theory in practice in the NPO sector. The students are demonstrating the genuine impact these theories are having on NGOs and the communities that they serve. It is also enabling the development of more responsible leaders through this immersion experience. The students learn how the NGOs are having a positive effect in their communities, leading change, and how they are dealing with issues of conflict and transformation.”

Jonathan Foster-Pedley, Dean and Director of Henley Business School Africa, says the MBAid programme also offers many opportunities for students from Henley Africa to engage in learning with purpose. “Hundreds of executives and managers doing learning programmes through Henley Africa provide strategic advice to NPOs and emerging entrepreneurs in South Africa. We believe learning can be a powerful agent for change and that individuals and the successful businesses and organisations they create are the ultimate engines through which social change can be driven.  Our purpose is to aid them in becoming engaged reflective leaders and positive forces that create value in society.”

Sam Dreyer, owner of Antidote Events, who has been integrally involved with the MBAid project since 2007, commented: “When you look at our civil sector we see amazing examples of servant leadership, where people are driven by passion rather profit, so by immersing our students in the NGO environment, they get to learn while giving back.”

The NGOs also find the programme very beneficial, adds Wilma De Souza, Antidote Events Project Manager.

 “NGOs get access to resources and skills that they would rarely be able to afford themselves. One of the biggest values for NGO directors is having a group of peers they can brainstorm with and talk over issues and challenges with.”

Susannah Farr, CEO of Gold – an NGO which runs peers education programmes that seek to empower youth peer leaders to become positive role models and agents for social and economic change - says the MBAid programme provided her organisation with an incredibly enriching gift.

“We really valued the partnership. The six students that worked with Gold in Cape Town were all highly qualified in their respective fields and brought a diverse skills set that really added value. They understood our programme and came up with helpful insights and recommendations, some of which we are already implementing. 

“They suggested innovative ways we could market our organisation so as to attract greater donor funding and how to utilise our strong reputation and our many success stories to better communicate the world of Gold, what we do and the impact that we have.”