Academics and Research

EMBA students venture to Africa for business insights

Each year, executive MBA students from the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business travel overseas to experience business opportunities unlike any they have seen in the U.S.

This international education adventure pushes students to interact intimately with an emerging economy. Because sub-Saharan Africa harbors six of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies from the past decade, this year’s cohort opted to travel to Botswana and South Africa, where they collaborated with local business leaders, NGOs and nonprofits, focusing on the challenges and opportunities that characterize the business environment.

Cohort member Stacy Cason (EMBA ’15) is co-owner of Corona Cap, a real estate development group based in Denver. The University of Denver Magazine sat down with Cason to talk about her experiences on the trip, the thrill of meeting Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu and the challenges inherent in integrating business lessons learned.


Q: Why are international experiences important for business students in the 21st century?

A: We live in a global economy, and you can no longer do business in isolated bubbles. To be able to experience and learn this lesson with my classmates and our professors in Africa was invaluable. We learned that business relationships are best nurtured in person.


Q: What did you take away from this experience — both personally and professionally?

A: That business is vibrant and optimistic in South Africa, despite daunting governmental regulations. Business leaders seem to have more of a societal focus there, as opposed to the individualistic approach in America.


Q: What moments did you find the most meaningful?

A: Meeting Archbishop Desmond Tutu was a moment to treasure forever — a living legend in our very presence! Also, the project Velokhya in the township of Khayelitsha was incredibly meaningful. Their cycling programs serve underprivileged children from age 7 to their early 20s. We witnessed them working with kids to give them a sense of purpose and a life outside of poverty-stricken streets. Finally, our visit to the SOS Village in Gaborone, Botswana, gave us a chance to play with the children who have become victims of the HIV epidemic in Africa. They simply wanted to play and live as normal children. That afternoon with the kids was so fun and meaningful, to see how simple life can be through the eyes of a child.


Q: How do you plan to make this experience carry over into your daily life back in Denver?

A: There was a brief adjustment period getting used to “normal life” again, but the lessons learned will follow me for the rest of my life. Eyes opened do not close again, and life discovered can never again be concealed.


Q: What did you enjoy the most about meeting Desmond Tutu?

A: He is a living legend — he was a kind, happy, smiling man. The things he has seen and experienced are beyond amazing — things we can only read about in books. His stories included incredible optimism and hope, which was refreshing. Despite his journey to challenge apartheid and the ugly debates that he mediated, in the end the archbishop is a gracious and kind soul who is truly happy with his life’s work and eager to give back even more.


Q: How did the group respond when they felt out of their comfort zone along the way?

A: For most of us, the trip was a fun adventure. There were occasional hiccups in our plans where we would say “TAB”: “That’s Africa, baby!” We were well prepared for what might happen and had each other for support. I think we collectively made an agreement to push ourselves to the limit to maximize our experiences on this trip.


Q: Any other thoughts or reflections about the trip? Would you go back?

A: Business is alive and vibrant in South Africa, despite the historical turmoil of apartheid and governmental restrictions today. South Africa has an effortless cool, reminiscent of Europe, fantastic weather like California and an unparalleled beauty in its diversity. Botswana is slower paced, but hopeful for new business opportunities. The country’s government is quite wealthy, and its people are very educated, contrary to stereotypes of sub-Saharan Africa. Yes, I would go back tomorrow — in fact, I have volunteered to go with the next cohort as a chaperone.



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