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January 29, 2019
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Sub-Saharan Africa: Beyond Tourism – The Legacy of Business Events


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Conferences and exhibitions drive industries, propel business and contribute significantly to the global GDP. In South Africa, they contribute over R115-billion to the national GDP. They are a transformative strategy for countries looking to boost their knowledge and creative economies. In March 2018, the MBA World Summit was held in Phillipi, the largest township in Cape Town, South Africa, where local entrepreneurs were partnered with international MBA students to help them grow their businesses through skills transfer and knowledge sharing. The MBA World Summit is a perfect example of how business events are the catalyst for large-scale socio-economic impacts, not only on tourism, but also on deal making, business transactions, training, research, development and education.

The Summit is an annual platform, held in a different destination each year that aims to explore the unique opportunities within that country, and plays host to 100 of the brightest MBA students from around the world. In 2018, the MBA Summit was held on African soil for the first time, and quickly proved to be a driver for participants to act as global change makers and tackle the key social challenges faced in Africa and other emerging markets around the world.

Involving Local Entrepreneurs

On the third day of the summit, the international MBA students were be paired up with 30 local entrepreneurs, which marked the starting point of a one-year legacy programme. In a 2-hour facilitated workshop, the invited entrepreneurs had the opportunity to present current challenges and obstacles faced on a daily basis in growing their business, in a context of a business environment. The MBA students gained a clear understanding of the challenges faced by the 30 local entrepreneurs as well as a good understanding of the infrastructural, financial, social, and knowledge deficit or challenges faced. The rest of the day was then spent working in small groups developing solution-approaches for the entrepreneurs in order to create short, medium and long-term practical solutions.

Tabisa Zaza, Owner of Tours4Purpose, was invited to attend the Summit and meet with a small group of MBA students who were hand-selected to facilitate the growth and success of her business. She explains: “With Tours4Purpose, the aim is that we will do tours and a percentage of our tours go towards funding townships and empowering entrepreneurs.” She says her experience at the Summit has been rewarding. “I think that it is the experience of having like-minded people in a physical space to co-create, learn from each other, and ask the right questions that help us to advance our entrepreneurial journeys.”

Yannick Reiss, Co-Founder of the MBA World Summit, felt that the team was lucky to be given the opportunity to host the event on African soil. “I think it’s a great chance to really generate improvement and have an impact on the local businesses here in Cape Town, which can also, in the long term, have an effect on Cape Town and Africa as a whole.”

Creative and Innovative Solutions

It is through business events that creative and innovative solutions take seed. It is through communication and collaboration between people of diverse backgrounds and with varied skillsets and experiences – both professional and personal – that brings about tangible results. This according to Raymond Ledwaba, a member of the Local Organising Committee, and a key driver of the Summit. “It takes events like the MBA World Summit to bring the world together and to create a platform for people to learn about different problems and how you can come up with different solutions,” he explains. “It was very important for me to bring the Summit here because the impact of conferences goes beyond the days that we spend here. It is the whole idea of catalysing change in small ways, and how we shift the way we think and the way we see problems.”

Nina Freysen-Pretorius, owner of The Conference Company and former ICCA President, understands and acknowledges the long-term benefits along the entire value chain of the business-events industry. One can quantify in economic terms the value of the number of flights and bed nights booked, the average spend of an attendee while at a conference or meeting, the catering costs, and the tours embarked on. “We can get those statistics, we know the budgets that events work with. But it’s not only about the conference being in our country for three days, or the planning that happened, or the investment from the private and public sectors. What is the real value of international meetings? What was the tangible, knock-on effect of hosting that meeting?” she asks.

“Without a meeting of minds we actually cannot achieve anything, it’s essential to growth,” says TinaShe Makwande, a business strategist, digital media expert and MBA graduate, who selected as one of the top 100 most inspiring MBAs in the world.

Dinao Lerutla, a Director at FutureGrowth Asset Management, was one of the standout speakers at the Summit. Sharing with a packed room of 100 of the finest business students in the world and a consort of local, ambitious entrepreneurs, she succinctly unpacked the real-world benefits of connections borne from business events. “The construct of an economy as we’ve known it has got to change and it is got to change fast. The ideas that you are exposed to at the Summit, while you are in Phillipi, will trigger some of those kinds of ideas about how you can contribute to being global leaders.” The benefits are that once these solutions are in place, it will be far easier for government to finance projects because they see tangible evidence that they are working. And it is through collaborative problem-solving and brainstorming that emerging entrepreneurs can make something of their lives. Dinao provided a real-world example of a problem that could be solved through the outputs of a business event: “Imagine if you had a centre that was training kids that are coming out of Matric to actually qualify in coding, where there is serious need for that skill in South Africa.”

The Way Forward

Ty van der Linden, an MBA student studying at Harvard, felt that the MBA World Summit was a positive experience for everyone involved. “For those here in Phillipi Village, and the entrepreneurs, hopefully they have a really meaningful experience getting to meet people from different countries and different cultures. That can be a catalyst to spur them on, and equally on the side of the 100 of us MBAs that are attending.”

“This event gives the entrepreneurs a sense of how ‘doable’ things are, and how markets can be accessed,” says Sisa Ntshona, CEO of SA Tourism, who also spoke at the Summit. “I am told over and over again that South Africa’s secret weapon is not its mountains or its wildlife, it is its people. We want to make sure that even in a place like Philippi, where tourism engagement levels are low, people here can feel like they are part of the sector. For instance, if a local entrepreneur produces a specific garment, and that garment would sell well in a country like Sweden; what does tourism do? It brings Sweden to the front door of that small business. We want growth, but we want this growth to be inclusive.”

Gwynneth Matthews, Managing Director of Southern Cross Conferences – the Professional Conference Organiser that brought the MBA World Summit to life – was inspired to take on the event because of the potential she sees in local SMEs. “Entrepreneurs in South Africa and small businesses contribute to over 30% of South Africa’s GDP, so that is where this country is going to change in the coming years. Southern Cross Conferences is a female-owned and led PCO – we are the part of the rising tide of empowered women of colour who are going to contribute to the long-term sustainability of this country. The MBA Summit is just one example of how SMEs are being empowered in South Africa, and I am determined to do my part to ensure their success. The importance of business events to the GDP and to nation building cannot be overstated.”

About GSB Solution Space

The majority of the workshops and events were held at GSB Solution Space, based in Philippi Village, Cape Town. All of the organisations that are based at Solution Space are centred on having an impact within the local community. It is spearheading engagement beyond the traditional spaces of the University of Cape Town – the organisation that funded the space.

The Philippi hub offers students, alumni, clients and local entrepreneurs in the community a place to meet and engage. Additionally, the Solution Space supports entrepreneurs to learn and grow, providing them with access to resources, corporate partners, mentors, advisory services, co-working space, speakers and partnerships. All GSB students across most academic programmes are encouraged to take at least one course on the Philippi hub.

Raymond Ledwaba looks back on the MBA World Summit 2018

“Reflecting on the event and the strides that have been made since then, I feel the objectives of the Summit have been met. We have been able to connect MBA students from various parts of the world with each other and with local entrepreneurs from Cape Town. We have also built a growing community of students and entrepreneurs who will definitely make impactful contributions in their countries from an economic, political and social perspective in the near future. Regarding the long-term economic impacts of the event, I believe that connecting the international MBA students with the local entrepreneurs has increased the social capital of both groups. If the relationships are maintained, businesses can be co-developed among the participants of the Summit. The measurable societal impacts since the event are that the local participants went on to graduate from the UCT Impact Venture Incubation Programme at the Solution Space in Philippi. In fact, the MBA World Summit was used as an opportunity for UCT to kick start the Impact Venture Incubation Programme.”

The MBA World Summit was made possible by the tremendous efforts of the local organising committee, and by the support of the South Africa National Convention Bureau (the SANCB). Visit www.the-iceberg.org for more information on the legacy of business events.


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