“What was the highlight of your trip?”
The requisite question for the newly returned traveler was given to me in the midst of my trip. I felt lost at the prompt, and only later articulated why: on such a wholly eye-opening trip what could possibly stand out?
The Global Experience Week took us to Africa to understand its emerging markets. While the scope of the trip could have been strictly with a business context; I was continuously astonished by the insights that I, an African, received. As an Ethiopian, I was located further north to the two countries we visited, South Africa and Botswana, but I have always been keen to learn about any of my continental neighbors. This trip exceeded my expectations and blew away any unfounded stereotypes of Africa I had been influenced through media perception.
Despite Africa’s size I believe that the continent is interconnected in its economic potential. Our experience brought this belief into sharper focus as we learnt about the businesses and customs shared by both South Africa and Botswana. An example of these interconnected businesses, MTN, originated in South Africa as a cellular network service provider and currently has a majority share on the African cellular market, expanding globally. Although throughout our trip we attended a number of events with key note speeches by influential leaders in the emerging African markets, none impacted me as personally as the speech by MTN South Africa’s CEO, Mteto Nyati.
Understanding leadership style was a key goal during our experiences. As an individual who worked his way from an engineer to an executive leader, Nyati exemplified this goal. He explained how he resolved workplace problems empathetically; from the same place he had been years ago, rather than relying on easier solutions such as employment termination. What moved me of his speech was when Mr. Nyati spoke of his leadership style originating in a drive for excellence. He was most driven not only of ambition but to prove and inspire black empowerment. In a country still marked by the effects of apartheid in its politics and where politics can directly influence economy, Mr. Nyati is a prominent African Leader.
My takeaway from Botswana was less personal but nonetheless impactful. Upon arriving in Botswana its cities beheld cleanliness and an eye for architecture. Our experience in Botswana involved a tour of Jwaneng Mine, which as the richest diamond mine in the world is the centre of Botswana’s economy. As if its status was not of consequence enough for our experience, a surreal moment came when we were allowed to hold a diamond worth twenty five million dollar, extracted from what is perceived through global media as part of the poorest areas on Earth. In another contradictory moment, we were informed that the best truck drivers on the mine were women. In the same vein, as Botswana utilizes what appears as a female stereotype to its benefit and the employment of women, the country encourages entrepreneurship. We visited Botswana Innovation hub Where Botswana’s government encourages its youth to translate their potential into innovation. It’s an idea that pervades Africa’s economic mentality, as its high youth population, even in Ethiopia, is on the verge of creating dynamic change throughout the continent.
The connection between Botswana and South Africa comes not only from both countries’ desire to promote entrepreneurship or telecommunication service but also from the energy South Africa supplies to Botswana. This dependence ties in the two countries together as part of our case study, and led me to ponder the question of Botswana’s future. Without ports and diverse point to point international transportation system it cannot adapt the way Dubai and Singapore’s trade have. However, the uncertainty of future comes hand in hand with the certainty of possibility.
While I will always carry a torch for my country, Ethiopia, Botswana’s resilience and potential have an irresistible draw.
Through these travels, I got to know my course-mates better. We made lasting memories outside of the school context that will bring us together beyond our program in the future. Cultural dinners and dances helped us connect through the wonders of another culture – as we all know; mutual tribal face marks can loosen up even the most culture-shocked individual. Getting to know each other helped round out the last goal of our trip: understanding cultural differences in business. While Africa is an entire continent with distinct countries and cultures, a commonality between South Africa and Botswana is that they build business relationships person-to-person, emphasizing with trust and approachability. In a time where globalization is the new norm and where my program is populated by many international movers and shakers intercultural communication cannot go understated.