Henley MBA student helps build communities during a pandemic

There are many aspects to the Henley Executive MBA that make it stand out from every other MBA programme offered on the continent. But there are two aspects that are extremely close to Henley Africa dean and director Jon Foster-Pedley’s heart: serving the community and active learning.

MBA student Collen Mashawana fits that bill exactly. Now in his final year at Henley, the IT and infrastructure development entrepreneur is unashamed about his need to give back to the community.

“I was born in Thohoyandou in the then Venda in very under-privileged circumstances. I stayed in an area with very limited basic services – if at all. I grew up thanks to the generosity and efforts of the community members around me and because of that I always dreamt of being able to have a positive impact on people who had to grow up like I did.”

Moving to Johannesburg, Mashawana held down a number of menial part-time jobs as he paid for his part-time studies in IT, joining Microsoft and later Dimension Data. From IT, he branched out into infrastructure development. Eventually he would be asked to sit on the board of both Dimension Data and construction company Group Five, after starting his own tech company and eventually a construction company and an investment company.

In 2012, he started the foundation that bears his name to focus on the elderly, child headed households, the disabled and the homeless.

“We’ve built houses for the elderly who can’t afford to wait for subsidised housing from the government,” he explains.

Over the past two years, his foundation has built and donated 200 houses across the country. During the pandemic, the foundation branched out into food relief for the most vulnerable, distributing 10 000 food parcels to date. Much of this he has funded personally, but increasingly his foundation has been sought out by donors, philanthropists and companies to help them achieve more – including most recently helping to distribute critically needed PPE to the most vulnerable communities.

He’s never lost sight of his roots. “we are community members before we are anything else,” he says. For Foster-Pedley, Mashawana’s experience and background is precisely what the business school looks for in creating the diversity and range of its students.

“I don’t know of any other MBA programme where you can have business leaders sitting alongside sports icons, world class investigative journalists, comedians, artists and musicians. It’s all part and parcel of a dynamic learning experience where we can all learn so much from one another.”

The dynamic learning is underpinned by various pedagogies including immersive and action learning in real time with real life situations.

“When we designed this programme, we actually set up MBAid, as an action learning experience that would root our students in the community, getting them invested in NPOs and making a tangible difference to them and the communities they serve,” says Foster-Pedley.

“In Collen, we’ve got someone who has been doing that all the time and it has been wonderful to have him share his journey and what he has learnt with his classmates and lecturers, which is another thing we pride ourselves on: creating an environment for dynamic learning where all of us, whether faculty or students, perpetually learn from one another’s lived experiences ensuring that what we learn is not just contemporaneous, but actually relevant and practical.”

MBAid, which remains a unique differentiator between Henley Africa and other business schools in South Africa, has directly benefited 70 000 people across 350 NGOs and NPOs since its inception more than 10 years ago, providing free world class consulting conservatively worth hundreds of millions of Rands.

It’s this kind of innovation and commitment to the community that helped Mashawana decide on Henley Africa when he finally found the time to pursue his dream of achieving his MBA. The other important considerations for him were its unique offering of the only international MBA in South Africa and its family-friendly flexibility, a vital consideration for a man who now has 19 subsidiary businesses employing 2 890 staff, as well as the responsibility of running and sustaining his foundation.

“I like the environment at Henley Africa. My MBA has been a journey, it’s taught me vital skills about working with people, both inside my own business and beyond. It’s also equipped me with a lot of theoretical guidance for my career and my daily life, which has been immediately practical and applicable.”

His journey at Henley Africa has also provided him with a very important perspective on the rest of the world beyond South Africa’s borders and even Africa’s too.

“My dream is to take my company international,” he says. But his MBA, which he is due to complete this year has also awakened a hunger in him to study even further.

“I want to grow intellectually; I want to discover where the economy is going world wide and be able to create a global company that can compete in it.”

In the meantime, Henley Africa can expect more of his staff to start following in their boss’s footsteps as they embark on Henley Africa’s unique ladder of learning en route to ultimately attaining their own MBA degrees.

Useful resources:
Henley Business School
At the core of Henley’s philosophy is the belief that we need to develop managers and leaders for the future. We believe the challenge facing future leaders is the need to solve dilemmas through making choices. We work with both individuals and organisations to create the appropriate learning environment to facilitate the critical thinking skills to prepare for the future.
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