Each year, the Center for Global Business at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business offers 20 students the opportunity to study Social Innovation in the Context of Contemporary South Africa. Malik Sulieman, a senior finance major, reflects on his experience alongside the remaining students who were divided into four working groups. Upon graduation, Malik will be working as a Strategy and Operations Business Analyst with Deloitte Consulting. Please enjoy the 2018 student reflections.
Malik Sulieman: Listen beautifully. This was one of our first lessons with Melanie [Burke] when we arrived in Cape Town. It is a different way of thinking for a group of American millennials from an array of different backgrounds. Melanie told us to listen without speaking, with the aim to understand different perspectives. Get rid of all our defense mechanisms and excessive responsiveness. Learn to listen with our hearts and not our mouths. Listening beautifully allowed us to open our minds and hearts to the world around us, taking our personal development and growth to new levels. Below are daily reflections from students and Victor Mullins, associate dean of the Smith Undergraduate Program.
Thursday, January 4, 2018:
Group 1: Our first full day studying abroad encapsulated the importance of lecture, experience and reflection in understanding Cape Town, South Africa. We not only learned about the culture of South Africa in a classroom setting, but also immersed ourselves in the close-knit community of the Langa Township. There we truly appreciated the business model of Mzansi Restaurant as it focused on the authenticity of their culture instead of solely expanding their growth for profit. We hope to continue our study abroad journey by stepping outside our comfort zones.
Friday, January 5, 2018:
Group 2: Today, we began to challenge each other's perceptions causing an intriguing dialogue between ourselves and the local students. Furthermore, we learned about the political landscape of modern-day South Africa through various lenses. As we entered the home of our gracious host, and enjoyed our traditional Cape Malay meal in Bo-Kaap, we learned that we would not be "granted a grain of sand more, or a grain of sand less than what we deserve." Finally, Mohammed taught us about the development and the progression of Islam in South Africa and its relevance in the fight for social justice.
Saturday, January 6, 2018:
Group 3: Today on our trip to Robben Island, we recognized that the ferry served as a metaphor to connect two important pieces of South Africa: the past and the present. As our guide, Ntombi Monyeni, explained, our “short walk to freedom” acted as a bridge to connect the new and updated South Africa to its rich history filled with many emotions and lessons. Expressed by Nelson Mandela and Robert Sobukwe, our experiences today stemmed from the process of “each one, teach one,” which we felt through the stories that were told by both a community tour guide, and former political prisoner, Jama, who both brought to life their shared feelings through their two different lenses. On our ferry ride to the island we were filled with eagerness and excitement, whereas on our ride home we were able to recognize the freedom paved road on which we walked; our physical and emotional journey from Robben Island to V&A waterfront ended with time spent with our new Cape Town family.
Sunday, January 7, 2018:
Dean Victor Mullins: Today, it’s raining in Cape Town. So, we stall today’s pre-planned voyage to allow our Marylanders to extemporaneously explore without an agenda. I continue to be empowered by the change I perceive to be taking place in each one of the 20 students enrolled in this course, albeit at various paces. This keeps me coming to Cape Town. This along with Melanie Burke, the Shawco Team, and Melanie’s brilliant colleagues and student leaders. I continue to have faith that together, we continue to create magic around social innovation and social entrepreneurship. Seeing these students evolve validates the process. Evolvement is good, because nothing around us is going to change until we take steps to change ourselves.
Monday, January 8, 2018:
Group 4: As Albert Einstein once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Through the system's lens, we recognized the need for social innovation based on the criterion of both novelty and improvement. Our imaginations led us to develop deep insights as we peered through this lens of social innovation and later into our classmates’ windows to the soul by beautifully listening. Our thoughts and actions became that of our partners as both parties became vulnerable to having their energy and self-being shared with the person opposite of them. We became as our partner became and existed in that space because they existed, or as they say in South Africa: Ubuntu. By climbing to the peak of Table Mountain, our imaginations led us to ruminate upon all the cross-sections of Cape Town society from 3,000 feet above.
Tuesday, January 9, 2018:
Group 1: To be honest, today was physically exhausting yet emotionally captivating. Our time emphasized how we often succumb to engaging with others for personally beneficial transactions, rather than creating meaningful relationships. Instead, if we slowly build relationships with people, we empower them to develop their own insights, gifting us with those transactions naturally. The Macassar experience and Johan’s words allowed us to recognize the privilege within our own environments. As we molded clay to form our cities, we also shaped our minds to how conflict can actually be healthy in interacting with others. Our visit to “The Hive” led by Fergus was much more than just a collaborative workspace. It illustrated how a simple space can transform a group into a community, allowing us to leave with a feeling of fulfillment.
Wednesday, January 10, 2018:
Group 2: Today, Helen led our SynNovation workshop, which helped us navigate our thinking in an innovative landscape. Unlike the operational way of thinking that we are accustomed to, we were challenged to renew our childlike sense of curiosity and creativity to form a space where new ideas can flourish. We were reminded that when new ideas arise, "if you always do what you always did, then you will always get what you always got." We realized that it is easy to become complacent and fearful of change, and we learned how important it is to overcome this mindset. We now know we need to show up organically by dissecting what we already know and be open-minded to new concepts. Helen taught us to "Ukuzimamela," meaning take time and listen to yourself, something that we put into practice at our final stop to the Cape of Good Hope.
Thursday, January 11, 2018:
Group 3: Today, we learned about power dynamics and the ways in which they affect society. The power dynamic that stood out to us the most in relation to our experience at high tea was the power of position; our power of position was granted through our privilege as study abroad students experiencing both ends of the societal spectrum in Cape Town. In class today we received photographs in which we were instructed to judge individuals on, later in the afternoon at Hotel Nelson, we then became the photograph that society would judge us on. Although we dressed up with the intentions of mirroring a bourgeois stereotype placed on Hotel Nelson, our true selves remained the same; our appearance to strangers lacked our complete story.
In the wise words of Melanie Burke, “no matter where you go, there you are.”
Friday, January 12, 2018:
Group 4: Today, we explored the meaning of social entrepreneurship and the differences between a job, career and calling. We heard stories from Melanie and our guest speaker, Beulah Thumbadoo, who taught us to be courageous and pursue our true passions even if it means risking our economic prosperity. It is important to recognize what is in our inner core in order to analyze what you love, what you do well in, what you’re willing to pay for, and what the world needs in order to achieve bliss. Later, Beulah presented her A-I model of social entrepreneurship in which she gave us the characteristics of potential entrepreneurs as well as tools to utilize when enacting change. We learned that the path of social entrepreneurs is a long journey with many trials and tribulations that can only be completed if the entrepreneur is fully motivated to solve an affliction.
Saturday, January 13, 2018:
Group 1: Many of our reflections throughout this trip have been focused on the lessons we have learned about ourselves. Today, the safari tour at Aquila Game Drive offered a change of pace as we listened to the wealth of knowledge from our tour guide, Emile. He shared interesting facts about every single animal which expanded our knowledge during the experience. The highlight of the trip was spotting the lions as they camouflaged among the rocks. We strengthened our sense of community as we helped each other try to find the hidden lions, giving each other the same sense of enjoyment that we initially encountered. Even in this unfamiliar environment, with the help of our enthusiastic tour guide and the family-oriented mindset we have developed, we completed another successful day in South Africa.
Sunday, January 14, 2018:
Group 2: Today, we got to taste a little bit of Cape Town as we ventured out to the Winelands, which exposed many of us to our very first wine tasting. We were warmly greeted by Mercia, our lovely tour guide and wine connoisseur. However, we got more than what we expected when Mercia shared with us the deep history of the farm that she lives on and has been working at for the past several years. She allowed us to see not only the beauty of the wine estate, but also the truth behind it. At Solm’s Delta, they strive to give an authentic experience and they have a deep pride in their history. Mercia reminded us of how important it is to acknowledge our history because without taking the time to recognize our pasts, “history will keep repeating itself.” We learned that the mindset is a very powerful tool, and once we stop making assumptions, we can begin to build a community like the one we saw at Solm’s Delta.
Monday, January 15, 2018:
Group 3: Today, we embarked on our last engaging learning experience of this trip through Hout Bay. While there, we were welcomed into Mama’s Seafood and Grill where we enjoyed food for thought, literally and figuratively. During our delicious lunch, we listened to Fidel’s story of passion for the arts, and perseverance as a black entrepreneur in a predominantly white business community. After lunch our tour guides Brent and Winston showed us through their community while sharing entrepreneurial projects that reflected a spirit of “in our community, for our community, by our community.” Towards the end of the exploration, Brent tied the overarching theme of this trip altogether: a sense of protection and strength through our respective communities is what great social entrepreneurs should try to strive to achieve.
Tuesday, January 16, 2018:
Group 4: Final Presentations. Graduation Ceremony. Today we came together and showed our appreciation, by graduating each other. We reflected upon our journey, as we've grown immensely by stepping outside of our comfort zones. We concluded the day with a farewell dinner by sharing our thanks with all those who made it all possible. Throughout this experience, we had the opportunity to reflect upon ourselves and life. Although we all come from different walks of life, we have all come to realize in the end that we are enough.
Malik Sulieman: We went on this journey as a group of strangers and left as one family. Many of us expected to learn about business and social entrepreneurship in South Africa, but we learned so much more. We confronted the very things in our lives that make us uncomfortable by challenging opinions, views and ideas. Learning is not always easy and pretty, it is often a difficult process that pushes our limits. We tend to believe what we know is true and that we know more than we do. However, we found that we were not able to listen beautifully until we realized that we do not know anything at all.
Melanie pushed us to let our guards down and embrace our individual vulnerability. There were times when we felt personally challenged and emotionally weak, but we fought through. This allowed us our special moments of growth where we cried, laughed and loved together. We have grown in ways we never imaged, built friendships we never expected, and addressed challenges we never wanted. We left a great deal of love in Cape Town, and we also left a great deal of personal baggage. Personal baggage that was hindering us from learning and being our true selves. We now return to the United States with a new-found sense of love, not only for the world around us but for ourselves as well.
Thank you, Chad Shane Burke, for being a great friend and always ensuring that we took our learning seriously. Thank you, Delicia Govender, for opening our eyes to the world and caring about all our stories. You are an amazing soul and we all felt your energy every day. Thank you, Victor Clark Mullins, for showing us what it means to be a true leader and community builder across borders. You supported us 100 percent from day one. Thank you, Jeanette Snider, for hand selecting us for this experience that you’ve worked so hard to create. You have touched all our hearts with your gracious spirit. You do so much for us and I want you to know that every student appreciates and loves you. Thank you, Melanie Burke, for taking us on this journey, loving us, and showing us that we are enough. You changed my life a year ago and I know you did the same for everyone this year.
For more information about Smith's Center for Global Business, visit: http://www.rhsmith.umd.edu/smithglobal
For more information about the Smith Undergraduate Program, visit: http://www.rhsmith.umd.edu/undergrad