Brigitte Roediger, University of Stellenbosch An eye-opening trip to India

As with most MBA degrees, we have to complete an international study tour. We were given the following options and 24 hours to make our choices: leadership in Ljubljana (Slovenia), sustainability in Exeter (UK), marketing in Paris (France) and business innovation in Hyderabad (India).

All the MBA students (part time, full time and modular) submitted their forms and these were then processed through a linear programming model with a random number generator (RNG) to select the most optimal combination. I knew this RNG particularly well as it would frequently toss out my name to answer questions in class. Therefore I knew when they said that 97 per cent of students were given their first choice that I would be one of the blessed 3 per cent to get my second choice and so I was selected to go to India.

Students at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad

We have  a saying in South Africa “a boer maak a plan” (a farmer makes a plan) but what we joked about reflecting on our first day in India, is that people in India actually have two or three back-up plans as well.

Our time at the Indian School of Business (ISB) was flawless and it has a phenomenal campus.  The building was constructed with the need for minimal lighting, relying on natural light and the architect designed the building so that there is a constant breeze in the centre of the school so that one hardly feels the Indian heat.

The greatest part of our course was on design thinking with Parameswaran Venkataraman. Design thinking is a problem-solving technique. Whereas six sigma is process focused, design thinking is consumer oriented. This is a process of thinking where you question the question and instead of looking at the solution, reframe what the problem really is before the solution comes into play.

The process is rational, empathetic and creative. You need to immerse yourself in the situation to know all the variables before you start with the solution. Then by doing a mini prototype you can engage and learn from experience before creating the final product.

We were split into various teams to focus on India’s problems of affordable housing, transport or the healthcare. Paired with a fellow classmate and an ISB student, we had to immerse ourselves in these problems for six hours and then come up with a radical solution. I had the remarkable opportunity to go to one of the slums and spent six hours with a family living there. It was not an easy experience with multiple cultural and language barriers, but it was a humbling, spiritual and emotional time.

The ISB research highlights three things children need to move out of the slums: role models, professional work experience and a mentor. Indian people stick together as a community and support one another, the poor want to help the poor for example.

India is classified as one of the “youngest countries”. In 2050 in India it is estimated that the average age will be 29 and also that one in four of the world population will also be Indian. Therefore,  700m Indians will need to be educated before that time. The enthusiasm and the passion with which they approach this shows that they are proud of what they have and want to share knowledge with others.

From my time spent in India I now know that if I were to initiate business dealings with an Indian supplier, I would be sure to manage the relationship authentically, rethink the problem and continue to come up with solutions. I would have an open mind and not enforce my western way of thinking.

I would try to come up with a solution that could benefit the masses. I would not let price guide the discussion but rather adopt a customer-focused approach.  Most importantly I would copy the no complaining, go get attitude and keep all the lines of communication open so that we could work together to find a radical solution.