This Member Spotlight highlights Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) in South Africa and its focus on collaborative partnerships in business, society and sustainability. Thank you to Interim Dean Morris Mthombeni for his recent participation in the EFMD Deans & Directors Conference and Luleka Mzamo, Communications Manager & Acumen Magazine Managing Editor of GIBS, for their contribution.
During the recent EFMD Deans & Directors Conference, Professor Morris Mthombeni, Interim Dean of the Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS) in South Africa, participated in a panel discussion in which the GIBS approach to partnerships, diversity and inclusion was outlined. It created quite a buzz.
GIBS, the University of Pretoria’s business school, was founded on the notion of building close ties with business and of fulfilling a pivotal role as a partner across society. Underscored by this history, GIBS has continued to embrace this collaborative approach; broadening it to include cross-border ties, social partnerships and projects, and even tie-ups with competitor institutions.
It was only in recent years that GIBS formalised its approach to value creation into a specific division within the business school, one created to nurture long-term learning journeys built on a deep understanding of client needs and the evolving trends both within business and society at large.
In a country like South Africa, with an official unemployment rate of 34.9% and a woefully high youth unemployment rate of 66.5%, it is impossible to be an effective business school if you lock yourself away from pressing social, economic and political needs. Of the 34.9% of South Africans unable to find employment, less than 2% have some sort of degree or certification, which highlights the critical role access to quality higher education plays within our nation’s social fabric.
Fulfilling this role comes with its challenges, not least of which is that globally-recognised business schools like GIBS are not easily accessible from a price perspective. To solve this problem, GIBS has long partnered with companies that sponsor worthy students to complete their postgraduate qualifications at GIBS.
Partners in business
Our list of past and present international partners range from Goldman Sachs and Exxaro to the United Arab Emirates’ Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority and the Walmart Foundation. Closer to home, we have also worked closely with rivals such as Henley Business School Africa. Together with Henley, our co-designed programme for Standard Bank went on to win gold at the 2020 EFMD Excellence in Practice Awards. The strategic leadership programme, called #unTAP, took 328 Standard Bank financial services executives from 20 African countries on an intensive three-month journey of transformation.
At the time, much was made of rival business schools working together, but as far back as 2015, GIBS was happy to collaborate with other top African universities as part of the Bloomberg Media Initiative Africa (BMIA) to equip African journalists and professionals with essential financial and business skills. Supported by Bloomberg and the Ford Foundation, the BMIA ran for five years in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa and has since been extended to Ghana, Zambia, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire and Tanzania.
Partners in society
While a business school is quite at home imparting skills and knowledge, there is another level to the GIBS partnership approach, which recognises that any good business school must contribute to building an inclusive and productive society. For this reason, GIBS partnerships extend to embedding equality by partnering with a wide range of social stakeholders. In conjunction with the likes of the United Nations International Children’s Fund, a variety of foundations, development finance institutes and corporations, we deliver social entrepreneurship education with a view to boosting entrepreneurial and employment activity.
Most recently, GIBS has partnered with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and with the broader University of Pretoria to deliver leadership and management training to support an agenda to eliminate malaria, a disease that affects much of Sub-Saharan Africa. The World Health Organisation estimates that 627,000 people around the world lost their lives to malaria in 2020. Of the 241 million cases recorded around the world, 95% were in Africa, and 96% of malaria deaths took place on the continent.
We have also begun to add undergraduate and social entrepreneurship qualifications to our range of sponsored offerings, including the Corteva Agriscience Women in Agriculture Programme and The Debswana Entrepreneurship and Enterprise Development Programme. Our Entrepreneurship Development Academy (EDA) was supported by financial services giant JP Morgan to roll out a free, 10-part ‘Covid-19 Small Business Survival Toolkit’ series that went on to win silver for the Best Business School Partnership from the Association of MBAs and the Business Graduates Association in January 2022.
GIBS also supports local initiatives such as the Youth Employment Service (YES), which places unemployed youth in year-long work opportunities to enable them to gain work experience and build essential networks that might open doors in the future. In December 2020, 25 YES candidates joined GIBS for a one-year employment contract, which also offered the chance for qualifying candidates to complete a fully-sponsored GIBS postgraduate diploma in business administration.
Partners in sustainability
A growing focus – which is in line with GIBS’ commitment to embedding the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals into our teaching and operations, as well as our role as a champion for the Principles for Responsible Management Education – is an even broader interpretation of corporate responsibility. Professor Mthombeni is leading partnership discussions with development finance institutions and global bodies to provide an academic programme for displaced, vulnerable people and refugees who are based in South Africa. The aim is to turn limited prospects into life-changing possibilities.
This ethos makes GIBS more than just a school for business, it is also, as Professor Mthombeni stresses, “a school for good”. He explains: “A society that is better educated, is less vulnerable, is more connected and more engaged is good for business. By making a small contribution through various partnerships, we can make a difference in areas where you might not expect to find a business school operating.” Ultimately the end goal is to encourage businesses to foster a better, more inclusive world in which business can thrive alongside society.
Gordon Institute of Business Science has been an EFMD member since 2010. The school has been EQUIS accredited since 2021. In 2020, the school received an Excellence in Practice Gold Award, along with Standard Bank and Henley Business School, in the Executive Development category.