Cohort 8 visits seniors in South Africa for philanthropic experience

Denise Edelmeier, left, visits with a resident named Denise at Oakhaven Home for the Aged in Cape Town.

Members of Stetson University Executive MBA program’s Cohort 8 wanted to give something to the South African people in return for their adventure in the nation. After careful consideration, the cohort selected a retirement home as the best place to visit and provide support. This decision was made in part because of the age of residents who could share what it was like to live through Apartheid during this evolutionary century of change.

The cohort visited Oakhaven Home for the Aged, coordinated with the assistance of Francis Chamarengah of Cross Cultural Solutions. “Oakhaven is not a place for old people to live before they pass, but it’s a place for the living,” said the local director, Ms. McPherson, “It’s their home. We work tirelessly to provide an environment that allows residents the freedom to go about their day in a manner that feels most comfortable to them.”

At Oakhaven, residents can participate in organized games, exercises and movie viewings. Oakhaven provides total care (health, emotional, spiritual) for its residents, including medication, meals, laundry and hygiene services. Oakhaven houses more than 100 residents, 50 years of age and older.

Victor, age 84, is a retired carpenter who built one of the first skyscrapers in downtown Cape Town. He said he loves living at Oakhaven. He doesn’t have any family in the area, so he relies on his friendships at Oakhaven to provide company and support emotionally.

McPherson said Victor’s situation is not unusual for Oakhaven residents. Few have consistent visitors, and the students’ brief time visiting will not only be incredibly stimulating for the residents, but it will boost their morale for days and weeks to come, especially upon learning about the students and their lives in the United States.

Residents gave members of Cohort 8 a tour of their home at Oakhaven.

Cohort members mingled with the residents for more than an hour. Student Denise Edelmaier was captivated by a resident, also named Denise, who was born and raised in Cape Town and in earlier years was a seamstress making dresses in a factory. Jason Plas and some fellow students spent time with light-hearted residents Christine and Gloria. And resident Sam was a very sweet man who was more than happy to share his smile. He seemed very content to be a father of four, but it was sad for the students to see that he struggled to remember his children’s names.

“I could see that visiting with the seniors meant a lot to them,” said student Eric O’Leary. “The fact that they do not receive visitors is sad, and sharing time with the seniors was very rewarding.”

During the cohort’s time with the retirees, many residents requested photos, which the students gladly took and shared. At the conclusion of the visit, Cohort 8 presented Oakhaven Home for the Aged a donation equivalent to $200 (U.S.), a portion of which was raised at Stetson Executive MBA’s Alumni Event.

“You forever made a positive impact on Oakhaven and its residents,” said McPherson to the students upon their departure. The students concurred after leaving that they too had been forever changed by the conversations they had there and the time they spent with the retirees.

Cohort 8 meets with communications giant Vodacom

Communications provider Vodacom was the first business stop for Stetson's Cohort 8 in South Africa.

Vodacom was the first stop on the Stetson University Executive MBA students’ business tour of South Africa, and the cohort’s visit was well-timed. Only three months ago, Vodacom underwent a large rebranding initiative. Vodafone acquired Vodacom in 2008, and Vodacom’s new look and new purpose were just unveiled April 1, 2011.

Vodacom is the leading phone provider in South Africa and has been a known player in the data and communications industry for more than 17 years. It was recognizable by its blue logo, which is now red. The company also introduced its new mission, according to Chief Operating Officer and interim Managing Director, Vuyani Jarana. “Connecting you, creating possibilities and changing lives” is the company’s purpose now, said Jarana. “The goal was to have a customer-focused experience by keeping the message clear — with speed, simplicity and trust.”

The rebranding included ads on TV, radio and print, and also used social media. Familiar characters, famous influencers and entertainers in South Africa were embedded into Vodacom’s messaging to keep the established customers while attracting new ones, especially youth. To reach the growing demographic of youth, Vodacom’s ads incorporated trendy music. Ads were linked to promotions which were key differentiators in the market. One of Vodacom’s goals is to give the customer top priority, and personnel now smile during their entire experience with the customer.

Students Denise Edelmaier, Larry Flory and Aziz Alessa tapped into their knowledge from their recent marketing course to ask questions pertaining to Vodacom’s new branding strategy and the company’s return on investment from the rebranding. The result, explained Vodacom executives, was that internal personnel had buy-in and renewed enthusiasm in their work. Externally, Facebook users soared, sales peaked, and the new red logo captures Vodacom as the “hot” player in the data and communications space in South Africa and moving globally quickly.

The Stetson team expressed gratitude to the entire Vodacom leadership team and executive department leaders for spending their morning educating Stetson University Executive MBA students on their unique, growing and evolutionary company.

“Vodacom has set the bar extremely high for what we hope to see and learn in our other South Africa business appointments,” said Flory. Eric O’Leary concurred: “The enthusiasm and passion that they have in their work and new direction is inspiring and gave me several ideas applicable to my line of work.”