South Africa: Hot Cities of the World Tour – Reflections

The following article was written by Brother Dave Fortin as reflection on his recent trip to South Africa.

This past February, I had the extraordinary opportunity to go on the Hot Cities of the World Tour with McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management. Many people apply to go on this yearly trip, but only 30 undergraduate business students and MBAs are accepted. Each year, Professor Karl Moore takes this dynamic group of students to a new country. The trip has previously includes countries such as Israel, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and India. On the trip, students meet with business leaders and government officials, learning to understand how the country competes on a global scale, while absorbing the local culture through visits to places of interest and interaction with local university students. I am proud to share some of the things I learned on this trip.

Firstly, South Africa is a country of extremes. This is the first lesson I learned from our trip. There exists within South Africa both tremendous wealth and crippling poverty, oppressive racism and incredible tolerance, dangerous crime rates and one of the most progressive constitutions in the world. Much of this is due to South Africa’s unique history.

Despite the level of crime and economic disparity in the South Africa, it remains an extremely vibrant, dynamic, and optimistic country. People seem to acknowledge that there are deep issues left over from the Apartheid era that cannot all be solved at once. They take this in stride and do all they can to improve the situation today, but are grateful for the progress that has been achieved thus far while remaining hopeful that the future holds an even greater South Africa.

The second key learning I had from our trip to South Africa is that business truly is conducted differently across countries. That may sound self-evident, even obvious, but it is very important for us to learn and experience as young business students and future business leaders. While I learned about how cultures differ in their standards and practices in the classroom, you can only truly understand the effects by experiencing them firsthand.

The last overarching theme I learned about in South Africa is the concept of Ubuntu. Not only was this the namesake of the charity for which we are raising funds, the Ubuntu Education Fund; it was also an idea that came up again and again on the trip. The essence of Ubuntu can be captured in the phrase “I am because you are”. That simple phrase is extremely powerful when we come to realize its ramifications.

Ubuntu is the African equivalent of “no man is an island”, where the truly interconnected nature of human happiness, need, and even existence is brought forward. It is more than Descartes’s “I think therefore I am”, which implies that self-awareness is sufficient for existence. No, Ubuntu gets at the core of what it means not just to exist, but also to be human. We are all interconnected and depend on one another to survive in a complex society and South Africans seem to understand this better than most.

This last insight resonated particularly strongly with me, as I understood it intuitively through the Circle of Zeta Psi. My brothers have been essential to my success as a student leader on campus, but that success would feel hollow if I did not have a brotherhood with which I could share it. When I joined Zeta Psi, I learned a great deal from the older brothers. Now, as I approach graduation, I truly enjoy the opportunity to be a mentor to the younger group of men looking to find their way in life. I can only hope that they find even greater success than I have found, as after all, I am because they are.