Four reasons to consider an MBA in an emerging market

PRESS OFFICE: UCT Graduate School of Business

Not all MBA programmes are created equal and almost as important as deciding to study an MBA is deciding where to study your MBA. The school you choose will have a big impact on the career path you want to pursue after you graduate.

According to the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) Global Graduate Management Education Segmentation Study, which looked at 5,900 MBA applicants in 15 countries, one of the top five reasons students give for choosing to embark on graduate management education is to stand out from others. And certainly, studying in an emerging market can help to give you that  and more.

An MBA in an emerging market is a rich experience in innovating solutions, the life-blood of modern business, can-do attitudes, cross-cultural collaboration and humility. And while many top ranked schools around the world offer study tours and semester abroad options for students – the gravity of a full, year-long immersion in this environment prepares you for the real world of business like nothing else can.

Here’s why.

1. If you can thrive in an emerging market you can thrive anywhere

First off, in a world of low growth and low returns, emerging markets – with their fast-growing economies, young populations and large consumer markets – are widely considered as drivers of global growth for 2018.

The student who has had a full-immersion experience in one of these booming economies – will have an edge. Not only because they will have a deeper understanding of the political complexities and instabilities that go hand in hand with these contexts – making them more able to navigate them skilfully – but because they will have gained an ability to work in diverse teams and cultures, making them more adaptive and resilient. These markets require you to think on your feet and become comfortable in an environment where uncertainty is the norm. The opportunity for personal growth and development is significant.

One of the biggest criticisms levelled against MBAs today is that they battle to convert theory into practice. In an emerging market you are much more likely to be able to practice what you are learning within the cut and thrust of a fast-paced business environment.

2. It is a crash course in innovation and sustainability – the lifeblood of business today

Emerging markets are increasingly recognised as being incubators of innovation. They are markets that demand it. As the old adage goes, necessity is the mother of innovation and, confined by geographical, technical, economical or infrastructure challenges, solutions in emerging markets are often dictated by the point of need, happening from the ground up. This in turn can drive innovation in the developed world in a process termed “reverse innovation”.

Consider for example, the low-tech wallet and payment service, M-Pesa, which sprang from the need for an innovative payment solution in Kenya and Tanzania and has subsequently spread to numerous other countries.

Why is this important? Because innovation is widely understood to be vital to business success today, the ability to innovate and problem solve gives individuals and companies an edge. Innovation is not confined to new products, ideas or methods, but includes the ability to dream up new ways to do things, to find imaginative solutions, modify business models or adapt to circumstances by coming up with products and services that are better suited to the needs of consumers.

Because much of the innovation in emerging markets is driven by a very real need to solve challenges such as a lack of healthcare or education, it is, by definition, concerned with sustainability – which offers another interesting facet to your degree. If you are an impactful innovator – and according to the 2017 GMAC study, 12% of graduate management students are – then this aspect will appeal to you particularly.

Many schools in emerging markets drive a strong focus towards making a sustainable impact on business and society. Certainly this was the case for Dianna Moore, a Texan who originally studied at New York University. “I wanted a career that had more of a direct impact on improving people’s lives,” says Moore, who elected to do her MBA in an emerging market in Cape Town. This, she says, consolidated her ideas on sustainability and the moral and strategic imperative for business to change the way it operates.

“Businesses need to be sustainable, but for that to happen, they first need to ensure that they are financially sustainable. My MBA taught me both the traditional foundation needed to run a company well and the importance of thinking in a new, longer-term, and more collaborative way if a business is to stay relevant in the future,” Moore said.

3. You will get great value for a world-class education

An MBA is not an inexpensive degree and any consideration around value for money inevitably considers cost versus quality.

While the top schools in emerging markets may not have the brand of the Ivy League schools, they are by no means light on quality. Several schools, including the UCT Graduate School of Business, have triple-crown accreditation – meaning they are accredited by the top three global accreditation bodies. There are only 87 such schools in 33 countries around the world. Twenty three of these are located in emerging markets.

You could walk away with a rigorous, accredited MBA which holds its own in the international arena. If you combine the currency advantage (fees in local currencies  compared to those in dollars, euro or pounds), the accreditation and the immersion in business on the frontier, there is tremendous advantage offered to international students.

4. People with international experience are easy to employ

The QS Global Employer Survey found that more than 80% of 10,000 employers in 116 countries on five continents actively look for graduates who have studied overseas. In a global economy, international experience, intercultural skills, adaptability and practical experience come highly valued.

In fact, the WEF The Future of Jobs survey says that the ability to work with and manage people along with emotional intelligence are among the top ten skills of the future. This is why employers love those who have experienced emerging markets.

Consider that Africa alone has an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 languages, with 520 spoken in power-house economy Nigeria alone. China boasts at least eight linguistic groups, with hundreds of dialects and variations. And that diversity of language is likely to come with diversity of etiquette and social mores too.

This diversity spills over into the MBA classrooms in emerging markets. Here you are likely to find a rich mix of people in the classroom and learn so much more from them than you will from the course work alone.

“My MBA took me to the next level in engaging with people who think and act in radically different ways from me,” said Shafika Isaacs, who studied an EMBA at the UCT Graduate School of Business in South Africa. “It reached all my blind spots, shortcomings and limitations in addressing complex issues such as transforming education systems, not just in Africa, but globally. I now have a whole new toolbox with a wide range of tools for any situation across a broad spectrum of different problems.”

A final word of warning: Studying your MBA in an emerging market may also come with lots of fun and sunshine, as well as a beautiful and exotic culture and city guaranteed to offer an extraordinary life experience. You may never want go home.

Amena Hayat is the career services manager at the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business in South Africa.