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Business education is for everyone, not just the C-suite

Reabetswe Molapo started NPO Yung Heirz as a passion project after she dropped out of UCT feeling totally demoralised. The only reason she’d chosen her course was because a woman had come to her school and said, “If you want money and to travel the world, then this is the degree for you.” Her experience made her realise there was a need for career education in South Africa. She wanted to go out and talk to learners about how to get into university, what they needed to know before making the decision, and how to stay motivated.

Reabetswe now runs two NPCs (the other is THINK Africa, a problem-solving platform for Millennials focussed on African Tech solutions) and is writing a book on African millennial leaders. She will be embarking on her MBA at Henley in October 2023.

Towards the end of 2018 I realised that I was going out speaking to young people advising them to do their best when I only had half a degree! I’d dropped out of a BCom Accounting at UCT some ten years prior and had tried to continue at UNISA but management accounting was killing me! I started wondering about alternatives for getting that piece of paper and becoming certified. I’d been running a non-profit for a number of years but I was aware I had my own skills gap. I knew I was good at what I was doing but I needed to know how to run my business, and that’s how I started thinking about business school and how I came to Henley Africa.

Initially I couldn’t get into the PGDip programme so I completed the ACMP and this was my personal turning point. The content you learn, the people you meet, and how it impacts your daily life immediately, is second to none. My fellow classmates were incredible. I was the youngest person there but they still respected me and never treated me like a kid. For the longest time, having dropped out of UCT, I felt like I wasn’t enough. Yes, I was doing great things but I believed I wasn’t smart enough. This experience helped me assert myself and made me aware of my capabilities. I felt validated. I completed the ACMP then transferred into the PGDip last year. It’s a pity it was online because of the pandemic as I really like the interpersonal engagement. But on the plus side, we did research on technology and its impact on business schools and productivity, and because this is a buzz now within the whole tech space, and I’d been wanting to enter this space, it literally solidified and impacted the business journey I’m on right now.

I’m a lot more organised and structured in the way I do things now. I used to be a ‘go with the flow’ type of person but I’ve learnt to be more analytical. I’ll ask myself, “Is it worth my time, my energy and my resources?” I’ve learnt to think through the lenses of different people. I find I’m much better at collaboration because of the ALPs (Action Learning Projects) I completed at Henley. Working in teams on ALPs is where you learn to practise what you’ve been taught – things like not shouting at people or biting their heads off. If you’re the one who was quietest, you learn to be more vocal. Everyone’s viewpoint counts regardless of your age, race, gender or background. I realised that there were certain things I’d been exposed to, which my classmates hadn’t, so that’s where I could add value.

There’s this perception that business school is only for executives – people who fly business class and make important decisions. But I believe that business education is important at every level. It gives people who’ve been working for 20 years, who may have started working straight after high school without studying further, that piece of paper to say they’re qualified. But it also fulfils the needs of people like me, who have dropped out of tertiary education, or people who run small enterprises, the skills to actually run their business, which is entirely different to ‘doing’ their business. For example, they may not have planned to start a business, but they might have opened a salon which then turns into a spa, and suddenly they realise they have a business they need to figure out how to run!

Maybe because I work in the SME space, I’m more aware than most, that a key challenge faced by micro and small businesses in Africa is creating sustainable business models. Sometimes these businesses start purely out of a need to put bread on the table, not something that is going to change the world. Over time, unfortunately it’s not sustainable. That element of being able to analyse your business is sorely lacking. That’s what I got with Henley. Sustainable business models, literally trying to figure out, “Is this working or should I be doing things differently? Maybe I should change my target market, reposition myself or find more innovative ways to do things.” Most of the time African businesses are in survival mode so they can’t think about access to larger markets or opening another branch or trading with Ghana. They just don’t have the capacity. They’re focused on what they can do today to keep the lights on.

Business school studies can help small business make the main thing the main thing. Henley helped me to figure out what was within my capacity and what resources I had access to. This helped me to think about how to turn my business into a sustainable one, to bring together profit and purpose, and ensure it’s capable of running on its own while still meeting the needs of its beneficiaries or the societies its impacting. We were able to reroute, reposition and even our offerings are a little different now.

One of the most important things that Henley emphasises is the leader in you. They make sure we do all the courses such as systems thinking and design thinking, but the personal mastery element, where you’re required to be reflective, is an essential component of the Henley experience. It’s not just about the piece of paper. It’s about real life, interrogating what kind of leader you are and creating a better human being all round.

We need more leaders who are empathetic, who can think holistically and who have that element of self-awareness. They need to be able to look at life from different perspectives. Say for example, your offices are in Sandton and your employee is coming from Soweto and is always late – is it a behavioural thing or could they be having challenges getting to work? One of the main reasons people of my generation (millennials) are leaving work, is because of toxic work environments, more self-aware leaders can help make our workplaces safer and more inclusive places to be.

I really believe in Africa’s potential. We have so much talent and I want to be one of those people who contributes to Africa’ success. The question is, how do we capitalise on Africa’s potential and build a sustainable business model for our continent? I think that if we can influence leaders at grassroots level in whatever spaces they find themselves, we can really make an impact. If you look at the economy of Africa, the majority of people are not C-Suite, but they are leaders. So we need to think about how we reach and train these people to ensure Africa is run in an efficient and empathetic manner throughout the value chain.

Useful resources:
Henley Business School
At the core of Henley’s philosophy is the belief that we need to develop managers and leaders for the future. We believe the challenge facing future leaders is the need to solve dilemmas through making choices. We work with both individuals and organisations to create the appropriate learning environment to facilitate the critical thinking skills to prepare for the future.
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