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The University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) inaugurated the new year under the theme of A New Horizon: The Year of Recovery and Opp

The University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) inaugurated the new year under the theme of A New Horizon: The Year of Recovery and Opportunity with an Academic Opening Series during the week of 26 – 28 January 2021. In 2021 we will face challenges both familiar and unexpected, but we will also see transformation as the world recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Prof Mark Smith, Director-Elect of USB, was the keynote speaker at the Ceremonial Academic Opening where he evaluated both the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for 2021. On what the post-pandemic future holds for USB, he said: “We need to transform and differentiate ourselves as a business school, and we need to provide a sense of purpose for us and for our stakeholders.”

He said a business school should be a space “where we can challenge ourselves and our thinking”.

Smith added that the business school will only be doing its job if it transforms teaching and learning and provide responsible leaders who can transform organisations and serve society. “As a business school we need to aim high in terms of our sense of purpose. This is how we will improve the well-being of society.”

On what makes USB unique, he listed fields of expertise, ability to deliver high-level blended learning, and the focus on responsible leadership and entrepreneurship as key differentiators.

“USB is a transformative school, a different school, and a school with a purpose.”
– Prof Mark Smith

“USB’s sense of purpose is to shape responsible leaders who can make ethical decisions, and responsible researchers who can help to orientate research towards the big societal challenges so that we can improve society in incremental ways.

“USB is a transformative school, a different school, and a school with a purpose,” he added. “Our areas of expertise include hidden gems such as strategic foresight, conflict resolution, women at work, social transformation, entrepreneurship, and our ability to push the boundaries of blended learning.”

Smith said he sees the primary outcomes from USB’s efforts in coming years as providing a transformative learning experience to its students. “This is our service to society. We will also continue to undertake research that has an impact, and to provide a sense of purpose for the school and for our stakeholders. Business schools need to step up and say we are here to develop managers for the future.”

The other speakers talked about the importance of research. Dr Lara Skelly, Research Manager and Head of the PhD in Business Management and Administration, said research is important because it makes the world a better place. “At USB we see research as evidence-based decision-making. Better decisions help to make the world a better place.”

PhD alumnus Dr Candice Booysen said her PhD journey taught her resilience, humility and the importance of staying curious. “To serve and support – this is how I’ve experienced the ethos of the faculty at USB.”

The year ahead as it relates to Covid-19 and vaccines

Prof Portia Jordan, Executive Head of the Department of Nursing and Midwifery at Stellenbosch University, said 2020 was the year that everything changed. “Across the globe we have seen businesses, schools, institutions have closed. It has caused a lot of suffering – unemployment, loneliness, amplified gender-based violence, corruption, poverty – but above all that, there was innovation as well.”

Prof Jordan listed the following long-term effect of the coronavirus: morbidity and public health implications; cardio-vascular alterations; chronic fatigue; musculo-skeletal pain; anxiety; rehabilitation; and productivity and organizational performance.

On the opportunities for the year ahead she said that the worldwide crisis that the pandemic brought “allowed us an opportunity to rethink business models, health care and education systems, operational capabilities, leadership styles what is required of a 21st century leader, organisational culture and performance, and approach towards digital world-telemedicine”.

Workplace traditions

Dr Natasha Winkler-Titus, senior lecturer in Organisational Behaviour at USB, presented on the meaning of work and the physical manifestation of culture, when we are not all in the same building.

“During Covid-19 a renewed focus came to all workers, both formal and informal sectors. Apart from doctors in the medical fraternity, lower paid workers and those in frontline jobs shouldered much of the burden in South Africa, and these still very much include women and previously disadvantaged groups.

“These groups suddenly became the unsung heroes. Much of these workers, however, do not always form part of the formal employment labour force. South Africa has a long tradition of work casualisation, not always with positive associations. Casualisation of work is positive and should be encouraged as it holds enormous potential for job creation,” she said.

She warned that higher levels of uncertainty and opportunity for exploitation remains. “The challenge, however, over and above our good governance and labour laws covering even the unemployed, is that in reality, there is little protection for those working in the informal sector,” she said.

“A great opportunity in the workplace is to embrace responsible leadership.”
– Dr Natasha Winkler-Titus

“Therefore, a great opportunity in the workplace is to embrace responsible leadership. How do we do this? Organisational leaders should consider all workers in their operational process, through a humanitarian lens. This does not imply full-time employment for all. But rather, a level of accountability for human rights and dignity,” she said.

“I see a new kind of leader emerging. Leaders who pay attention to science. Leaders leading with compassion and courage, who are not afraid to consult experts and science, and who act responsibly and take accountability.”

Winkler-Titus emphasised that the biggest conversation remains how we work with specific emphasis on virtual collaboration. “Why I use that phrase, because it is not only about working remotely or from home, it is about achieving engagement and collaboration in a virtual space.”

She said virtual collaboration needs to consider job and workplace design, employee and team engagement, work life flow and the enabling environment for collaborative spaces and practices.

“Workplace traditions must be re-imagined towards the greater good of humanity. The workplace is an expanding concept and Prof Theo Veldsman reminds us to get beyond organisation and embrace future fit ideas of organising around purpose. Who is working should become the concern of everyone. Virtual collaboration can hold immense benefits if applied correctly, ensuring technology and psychology is in balance,” she said.

“Let’s use this crisis to propel us toward greater courage, compassion and significance to re-imagine work, worker and the idea of organising around purpose.”

An economic outlook for 2021 and beyond

Prof Charles Adjasi, professor of Development Finance and Economics at USB, said the South African economy before Covid-19 has been struggling for the last decade, stating “sluggish manufacturing sector, increasing public debt and fiscal slippages, and increasing unemployment” among contributing factors.

He said that efforts to resuscitate the economy showed positive signs by 2018. “But the worst was to come. Covid-19 and a hard lockdown in March 2020 meant that all activity came to a standstill and there was immense pressure on the health care system and related infrastructure, with a knock-on effect on productivity,” he said.

He mentioned data from Stats SA showing that in April – May 2020:

  • Year on year growth in manufacturing production had contracted by 48.7% the largest slump ever;
  • Utilisation of production capacity had dropped to 58.9% compared to 80.3% in previous years;
  • Income from tourist accommodation fell by 98%;
  • Wholesale trade and retail trade reduced by 42% and 49.9% respectively;
  • The proportion of people with no income had practically trebled from 5.2% pre-lockdown to 15.4% in immediate post-lockdown; and
  • The proportion of people who experienced hunger had increased from 4.3% pre-lockdown to 7% in immediate post-lockdown.

“It is recovery that will be tough and depends a lot on government’s leadership and commitment.”
– Prof Charles Adjasi

However, Adjasi said it’s not all doom and gloom and that four factors would guarantee an overall positive outlook for the South African economy, namely:

  1. Government leadership and commitment;
  2. Global and regional growth;
  3. Financial state of the economy; and
  4. The reduced probability of a third wave of Covid-19 and/or problems with vaccine rollouts.

“But this is a tough path of recovery and does not mean the economy immediately gets back to a desirable and sustained growth path. It is recovery that will be tough and depends a lot on government’s leadership and commitment,” he said.

Surviving as an entrepreneur during a pandemic

Huenu Solsona, owner of The Galileo Open Air Cinema, listed five key skills entrepreneurs require to survive through Covid-19. They are:

  1. Adaptability: Set goals but be flexible and embrace change;
  2. Innovation and teamwork: Ideas are always better as a team and be the leader that gets the best out of people;
  3. Perseverance: Believe that there is always a way;
  4. Positive mindset: Surround yourself with positive people; and
  5. Good negotiating skills: A good negotiator creates win-win situations for both parties.

Watch the video recordings here


Academic Opening 2021



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