2020 EFMD Case Writing Competition Winners Interview Series: African Business Cases

EFMD encourages and rewards innovative and impactful cases in management development each year. This year brought an exceptional variety of winning cases across various industries. EFMD decided to interview the winners to find out more about their motivation, inspiration and significant challenges.

The third interview is with Mr Stefan Christiaan Nel, University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business, one of the winning authors from the category “African Business Cases”.

Medical cannabis: Afriplex’s diversification and integration strategy in an undefined market

The team of authors:

  • Stefan Christiaan Nel, University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business, ZA
  • Mikael Samuelsson, University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business, ZA
  • Sarah Boyd, University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business, ZA

Afriplex is a South African company rooted in the development and manufacturing of botanical extracts, complementary medicines and food & beverage product solutions. It was established in 2001, with the original objective of unlocking the potential of traditionally used African botanical remedies.

Today, the mission is to conceptualise novel CAMS products for key clients, based on scientifically proven safety and efficacy data, manufactured and packed according to cGMP quality standards.

What was the greatest inspiration for your case?

I am a project manager at Afriplex, which has an exciting and successful history of producing specialised pharmaceutical products from indigenous botanicals. But the greatest inspiration for the case was one of its greatest challenges – understanding the real opportunities coming from the emergent cannabis industry.

In South Africa, the nascency of the cannabis industry made it challenging to match it to contemporary literature, which added to the uncertainty of researching the opportunity from both an industrial and academic standpoint.

This also made it inspiring and exciting to develop a case of it. By focusing on a new industry, the research also can shift the stigma around cannabis while educating people on what it can offer healthcare in the future.

By focusing on a new industry, the research also can shift the stigma around cannabis while educating people on what it can offer healthcare in the future.

Seeing what cannabis can offer as the next frontier of agribusiness and medicine is rewarding. For example, the potential benefits still to be unpacked in childhood disease and cancers. For me, it was also my move into the pharmaceutical and natural medicines industry, which I’m thoroughly enjoying.

What were the major challenges, in your opinion, in designing the case?

Although they are not exhaustively explored in the case, the non-market factors at play were very influential and posed a challenge in the case design. For instance, non-market factors like activist groups, regulatory changes, and, of course, the stigma around cannabis all impact the business opportunities for companies like Afriplex, but they are also difficult to quantify or sufficiently unpack in such a short case format. But I found that the dynamic approach of case research allowed the creative space to explore these ambiguous and uncertain factors best.

It’s different to a linear approach in that it captures a snapshot of the nuances of a particular situation without getting too far into the weeds. So the way that a case can evoke a story makes it real and interesting for students and can easily accommodate even unearthed, ambiguous topics.

In what ways could the case impact society and business in the near future from your point of view?

The Afriplex case can have a positive societal impact because it demonstrates the legitimacy of a historically controversial industry in the early days of deregulation but holds great promise for medical innovation. By showcasing the professionalisation and formalisation of the cannabis industry, it propels and enables further medical research.

It’s an example of what African businesses can and should promote industrialisation and capacity-building on the continent.

It also elevates local emerging market companies, like Afriplex, who are spearheading this research and achieving operational excellence in the specialised, highly regulated field of pharmaceuticals. It’s an example of what African businesses can and should promote industrialisation and capacity-building on the continent.

The Sponsor’s Commentary

The category “African Business Cases” is kindly sponsored by China Europe International Business School (CEIBS). EFMD greatly values the sponsorship, the expertise and the effort of the sponsor to contribute to the Case Writing Competition.

CEIBS Case Centre

CEIBS devotes considerable resources to case teaching and development. The result is creating a body of intellectual capital that has established the school as a centre of knowledge regarding management practices in the Chinese context.

Established in 2001, the CEIBS Case Centre is committed to becoming a global hub for China-specific managerial issues while promoting the case method in China. CEIBS cases cover most management issues while paying special attention to China’s fast-moving business environment, seeking to document the innovative practices emerging in the country.

Why is case writing & teaching on the topic of “African Business Cases” important?

At CEIBS, we believe the value of the case teaching method is universal. Teaching with cases enables students to delve deeper into business principles and can help cultivate responsible business leaders of tomorrow. This rings true all over the world, whether it be in China or Africa. Cases that focus on particular regions provide students with a means of exploring the intricacies of diverse business environments on a global level. 

CEIBS Case Centre has been committed to telling China’s story through the medium of cases for more than 20 years. By establishing the world’s leading library on China-focused cases, we can tell stories of companies and concepts in this fast-moving country that might otherwise go untold. There are parallels between the situations of China and Africa; we see innovation and entrepreneurialism come to the fore in these dynamic environments. 

What are the reasons that CEIBS is encouraging case writing in the topic by sponsoring the category?

CEIBS is very proud to continue supporting the “African Business Cases” category. The school makes and will continue to contribute to the development of business education in Africa, as highlighted by the achievements of the CEIBS campus in Accra.

With Africa’s position as a future engine of global economic growth, demand for African-focused business cases has been rising. We hope to encourage more relevant cases that reflect the business environment, such as the Afriplex submission. Examining Africa’s business practices and corporate culture can provide invaluable experiences and lessons for students.

This competition provides another window for the world to understand Africa through case studies, and case-based management education can assist the progress of Africa’s economic development and business transformation.

About Sponsorship

Each year, more than 17 institutions sponsor categories in the EFMD Case Writing Competition. The choice of category, its exact definition and any specific conditions are the privileges of the sponsor. Sponsorships for the following categories are currently available – Continuous Improvement: The Journey to Excellence, Indian Management Issues and Opportunities, Supply Chain Management, and MENA Business Cases. If you are interested in sponsoring the mentioned categories or launching a new category relevant to case writing and teaching, please contact Hansol Park at hansol.park@efmdglobal.org.

More information about the 2020 EFMD Case Writing Competition can be found on the EFMD Global Case Writing Competition page.

Please visit the Case Centre’s webpage to access the collection of the winning cases.