Written on 11 Dec 2015.


Sustainability and Entrepreneurship hand in hand: EDHEC MBA in South Africa

By Fabian Santana, EDHEC Global MBA Class of 2016

On a dusty valley at the southernmost tip of Africa, roughly 14,000 kilometers south of our campus in Nice, lies Cape Town, a sprawling metropolis of 4 million inhabitants lovingly nicknamed “Mother City”. This is my home for a week, in the context of the sustainability focused international study trips within the EDHEC Global MBA.

South Africa’s rich culture earned it the title of rainbow nation. It enjoys a world class infrastructure and a budding economy that catapulted it to a seat on the mighty BRICS economic block. On the flip side, it is also the most unequal country in the world, as measured by its staggering Gini coefficient of 63.4, a turbulent past and the highest rate of AIDS infected adults in the world (18.5%).

In our courses at Stellenbosch University we hear “We’re working hard to overcome the economic and social chasm caused by decades of apartheid policy.” The reality of the challenge comes to life one sunny morning, as we arrive at Khayelitsha Township. Khayelitsha seems to gather all the conditions required to not have a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem. Little formal education, no infrastructure, little access to capital and oppressing poverty across the board but nonetheless, people thrive.

We spend an inspiring day visiting companies of entrepreneurs from this city sector. They have started companies that serve and hire from the local community, building their ideas through innovative means. Among them are Espinaca a healthy spinach-based bread baker that operates out of an old shipping container parked by the highway, Department of Coffee a Starbucks-like franchise operating out of an improvised cart on the middle of the rough neighborhood and Heavenly Quartez a singing quartet turned event-production company and music school. They share their experiences candidly; “I started the business with 4 dollars” says one entrepreneur.

Sustainable takes on new meaning here. There’s little room for error, waste or inefficiency, it’s not a corporate slogan but a matter of survival. These businessmen are far removed geographically and ideologically from the venture capitalists of Silicon Valley, yet equally inspiring. I would be hard pressed to find an adversity they have not faced, and yet they manage to better their world, developing the economy of their community, serving the needs of their peers, and making a profit along the way.

After a long day I’m left pondering over a cup of local coffee, humbled and stirred. I no longer want to worry about financing rounds and stock option compensation. This city at the end of the world has reminded me there are better reasons to work than money. If these entrepreneurs can do so much with so little, maybe so can I. Maybe we all can.


What better way to begin a New Year than with inspiration – happy new year!