3 Lessons from South Africa

I believe I speak for all of us on the Chazen South Africa trip when I say that this journey was one of the most meaningful experiences of our Columbia Business School education. Why? For me, it boils down to three main lessons, which I will carry with me through this final semester at CBS (and onwards!).

1. Inspiration from South Africa’s complex history – specifically, from those who have fought and continue fighting for a united country.

“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” -Nelson Mandela

Throughout our 10 days and across the country, we were constantly surrounded by people who are fighting, in diverse ways, for a South Africa that they believe in. From places like Robben Island to the Apartheid Museum, where we learned about the struggle of leaders great and small, to our meetings with the people at the helm of EY, Nando’s, and Awethu Project, to name a few, we saw an incredible spirit in the people of South Africa and such excitement around the future of the country that they hope to build.

2. A perspective on global business and an increased awareness of the differences of foreign markets relative to the U.S. market.

“When overseas, you learn more about your own country than you do the place you’re visiting.” –Clint Borgen

From a business perspective, our meetings shed light on the context of the South African market, and the African market more broadly, especially when thinking about strategy and reaching the average consumer. In many ways, the leaders we met with illustrated the benefits of the US market in making comparisons with South Africa – in terms of population size, demographics, income level, and many other factors. Despite the unique challenges of the South African market, the country clearly presents an opportunity to many international businesses looking to make a start on the African continent. I’m looking forward to watching the market and seeing what happens with many of these attempts at expansion into East and West Africa.

3. An incredible new group of friends and the memories we now have together!

“People don’t take trips, trips take people.” –John Steinbeck

It’s hard to explain just how much fun was had on this trip. From our day hanging with penguins in our ridiculous Hawaiian shirts, to many memorable (or not so memorable, if they took place post-dinner) hotseats on the bus, to the infamous dragon lady… I can’t imagine a more engaging, curious, and energetic group to have seen South Africa with over the past few weeks. Our leaders – Maria, Jocelyn, Christina, and Ian – put an incredible amount of heart into this trip, and it made all the difference in our experiences. We also had the best Chazen leaders, Caitlin and Becky, who were a pleasure to get to know and added a lot to the trip.

I can’t wait for our reunion!


Kate Canfield ’17

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