African Development

Today was an informational and enlightening day. We started out the day hearing from Dr. Melani Prinsloo who is a founding member of Infusion, a community-based research entity focusing on underdeveloped communities. She provided us with a unique perspective and wonderful insight to our (mostly wrong) assumptions and how companies and people like us want to develop other people, not really looking at the context and figuring out what works for them.

Essentially, how can we design something for someone we do not know? Development needs to be approached in a way that is beneficial for ALL stakeholders. If a company comes in to develop a community and the only beneficiary is the company, then development is not a positive. In addition, when offering jobs to unemployed people, they need to have a job that allows them to participate on a level they feel comfortable with, and one that meets their personal objectives. A person who has never worked in his or her life cannot be thrown into a certain job just to fix unemployment rates because that person will have been done a disservice–they are not capable of that job and will not be motivated. Melani asked us this question that made us think: How many of us would be keen to have someone who has never worked in our company? The solution to unemployment is not just handing out jobs. There is a capability bridge that needs to be crossed. These are just a few of the insights that Melani gave us that we had never really pondered before. I could go on, but that could take a very long time!

Melani spent the whole day with us as we went into a large township in Johannesburg called Soweto. Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu used to live in Soweto. This township has the poorest of the poor as well as some of the wealthiest people–around 4 million people live in Soweto. We went to the mall and visited 2 banks–Absa and Capitec–as well as Shoprite, a grocery store/smaller Wal-mart concept. We were able to see that these companies target everyone in the township, not just a certain market, and the customers value low prices and great customer service. We also visited a small Vodacom call center on the side of the road where citizens can make landline calls. We spoke with the owner to understand more about how the service works. 

Following the company visits, we had lunch at a restaurant called Wandie’s. The food was absolutely delicious and we were able to enjoy some traditional African foods while there. We also had lunch entertainment provided by a man playing the guitar and singing with two ladies. Their voices were wonderful and we very much enjoyed their music! After we ate, we went to the Hector Pieterson museum in Soweto. Hector was only 13 when he was shot by police in the Soweto uprising of 1976. This was where students were protesting the government demand for Afrikaans to be the language of instruction in schools during the Apartheid era. The museum was interesting and we were able to learn a lot that we were not previously aware of.

After our long day out and about we came back for a debrief with Melani about our day, unpacking everything that we learned and observed. Melani shared more knowledge with us and left us curious about global development. Most definitely a very intellectual day! Tomorrow we visit Nando’s (a restaurant chain) and then KPMG. 

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