For some, spring break means getting away from the stress of classes. This isn’t the case for students in professor Ian MacMillan’s course, “Building Future Markets: The Case of Africa”.
The course is one of six offered this spring break as part of Wharton’s Global Modular Course program. This spring break, a group of approximately 50 MBA and Executive MBA students are getting ready to participate in a four-day trip to Cape Town, South Africa, where they will collaborate with local students and learn about entrepreneurship in the global market.
According to MacMillan, the course attempts to get students acclimated to global commercial activity.
“The thesis of the course is if you go to a place early and begin to build a presence there,” he said. “You create local relations and a connectedness to your customers.”
This year, Wharton is offering 13 of these global courses during winter break, spring break and right after classes end in May. The courses offer students either 0.5, 0.75 or 1 credits and focus on global markets.
Any Wharton MBA student can sign up for these courses, though they must pay for their own travel costs.
Other GMCs will be held in China, Brazil and Italy this spring break. Most are offered only to graduate students in the MBA school, but MacMillan seeks to change that in the future by opening the course to Wharton undergraduates.
Though the course only runs for four days in South Africa, students are encouraged to come with entrepreneurial ideas and collaborate with South African students to create businesses that will help foster the African market past the short period of time.
“What we’ve done is create a very deep and pervasive experience for students of the opportunities in Africa,” MacMillan said. “[Africa] is in desperate need for help and not just charitable help. A lot of the stuff we’ve done in Africa is kind of skewed toward alleviating conditions. We feel very strongly that the continent is ripe for being able to determine its own destiny, but it needs a lot of help.”
Some projects that have come out of Wharton’s collaboration with Africa in these short courses include a project that is currently trying to provide purified water to small towns in Ghana.MBA candidate John Fox said his interest in entrepreneurship and global markets led him to take the class in March 2012.
“The fact that we went to South Africa and the fact that we were able to see entrepreneurship in absolutely dirt poor areas was pretty amazing,” Fox said.
Fox also previously participated in another GMC in Rwanda. He noted that the two areas, however, are very different and the two courses offered different experiences.
“One of the things I liked was the opportunity to know the markets up close and personal,” Fox said. “And going off into towns and getting to talk to some of the people that were there.”
The course in Rwanda will be held this upcoming May. MBA candidate John Jadczak said the course taught him about different kinds of leaders around the world.
He compared a military leader to a CEO. “Obviously there’s a difference,” he said, “But there’s these common threads that run through any kind of leader and there’s a lot that Wharton students who aspire to be business leaders can learn from other kinds of leaders.”
Jadczak added that he’d like to see a continued relationship with Rwanda and Wharton in the future.
“It’s important that people understand that there are really challenging issues when you go into Africa at the moment,” MacMillan said. “People don’t have access to business education. So what we try to do is try to compensate for that.”
A previous version of the caption stated that the courses were open to only MBA students. Some of the courses are open to undergraduate students as well.