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USB alumnus who won ‘best research assignment’ award shares her findings

Source: https://www.pexels.com/photo/group-of-people-in-a-meeting-1367272/
  • June 22, 2020
  • Tags Alumnus, Development Finance, Growth, Journey, MBA, NPOs

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USB alumnus Salma Seedat shares her postgraduate studies journey at USB:

My experience as a student at a university began in 2015 when I applied to study a Postgraduate Diploma in Development Finance at the USB. At the time I was running a management consultancy that focused on socio-economic development, but I had never been to university and did not have an undergraduate degree. It was a long shot, but I was so intrigued by the course outline that I decided to take a chance and was pleasantly surprised when I was accepted.

I loved the engagement with lecturers and classmates from different walks of life…

The studies required more adjustment on my part than I initially thought, not only from a work and family perspective, but also from the perspective of being a student at a tertiary institution. I loved the engagement with lecturers and classmates from different walks of life and the mix of theoretical and practical learning during the course. I am most grateful for the fact that completing the postgraduate diploma provided the opportunity for me to study towards my MBA.

I have emerged from the MBA with a wealth of knowledge, lifelong friends, and experiences that provided lasting memories.

I somewhat naively thought that the MBA experience would be like the postgraduate one; I was not prepared for the depth to which the course challenged and changed my life. I have emerged from the MBA with a wealth of knowledge, lifelong friends, and experiences that provided lasting memories. The leadership development aspect of the course helped me to challenge my assumptions and change my thinking and behaviours in ways that are now helping me achieve my career and personal aspirations in my journey towards being a responsible leader.

During the Business in Society module, we had fascinating discussions about responsible leadership and our role as leaders in society. Part of the module required engaging with non-profit organisations (NPOs) so that students could understand how to balance mission and vision with impact and sustainability. This made me curious about the effect this engagement had on my fellow students since most of the class worked in the private sector and had limited prior interaction with NPOs. This led to the conceptualisation of my research topic, “Transformative learning in MBA students: Perspectives from engagement with non-profit organisations”.

The research findings showed a significant relationship between NPO engagement and responsible leadership development in MBA students. Across the development sector, there is a call for public/private partnerships to address the most pressing challenges facing the world, such as poverty and climate change.

It is therefore imperative that we have leaders in the private sector who understand their role in society…

It is therefore imperative that we have leaders in the private sector who understand their role in society, and who can forge these partnerships in a way that benefits all parties. Business schools have a key role to play in producing these types of graduates, and the Business in Society module is a wonderful example of how this kind of experiential learning can be embedded into a business school curriculum.

Here’s an abstract of her research assignment:

In South Africa, there is a need to develop management students who are cognisant of their social responsibilities in a post-apartheid societal and economic structure. The management education landscape is shifting towards providing students with the knowledge and skills required for them to contribute towards sustainable development through ethical and responsible business conduct. Experiential learning through engagement with non-profit organisations (NPOs) is increasingly recognised as important for developing these key skills. NPOs offer transformative learning opportunities for graduates by providing a vital link between organisations and society. Furthermore, they give graduates the opportunity to discover how to balance mission and margin, measure performance beyond financials, and be accountable to various stakeholders, all of which are important skills for responsible leadership.

Transformative learning in South Africa is taking place in community engagement programmes in the medical, social science and education fields. However, there is a lack of published research relating to the business field and a gap in knowledge relating to the perceived catalytic moments of management students’ transformative learning journeys through their engagement with NPOs.

This study explored the perceptions of Masters in Business Administration (MBA) students, at the University of Stellenbosch Business School, in relation to their transformative learning journey through engagement with non-profit organisations. The objectives of this study were to explore the relationship between engagement with non-profit organisations and responsible leadership development in the students, and to identify the catalytic aspects of their engagement that facilitated a transformational experience.

The findings showed a significant relationship between NPO engagement and responsible leadership development in MBA students. Students identified responsible leadership traits such as “inspiration, transparency, accountability, honesty and integrity” in their engagement with NPO leadership. Students connected these to their individual traits and skills and identified potential gaps in their development. In addition, the values-based and passionate leadership style in NPOs resonated deeply with students and resulted in a shift in motivation towards addressing societal challenges. The students noted that they had begun incorporating these shifts into their professional and personal lives, and into their community interactions.

This study showed the immense value of embedding experiential learning and critical reflection as part of the management education curriculum as this translated into a shift in assumptions, attitudes and beliefs. This helped students change their behaviours to incorporate new paradigms and new perspectives into their lives. Furthermore, the findings provide management education institutions with insights and learnings that can be used to tailor their responsible leadership development curricula.

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