New fellowship programme at the UCT Graduate School of Business sponsored by Old Mutual is set to drive new research in emerging markets.

The UCT Graduate School of Business (GSB), in partnership with Old Mutual, has put together a unique team of five young scholars who have been tasked with cracking the code of emerging markets. Using a multidisciplinary approach, and starting this year, the team will work to understand some of the social and economic development issues the developing world faces.

The Old Mutual Research Fellowship in Emerging Markets has drawn researchers from the Netherlands, Germany, Zambia, Zimbabwe and the Sierra Leone, with a diverse range of expertise within the housing, finance, sustainability, collaboration, and economics disciplines.

Professor Walter Baets, director of the business school, said the themes of research will be agreed upon in cooperation with the Old Mutual Centre for Emerging Markets, and will be both useful to the company and suitable for academic publication.

“Globally, business schools have begun to re-discuss value creation in emerging markets from a different perspective, and the GSB is playing a key part in this conversation,” said Baets.

To support the building of a new business school model, said Baets, more innovative research and insight into the characteristics of emerging markets is required, and a close partnership with business is pivotal.

Director of Corporate Affairs at Old Mutual, Crispin Sonn, said the decision to support such a fellowship with the GSB came out of a need to build on the company’s existing knowledge of emerging markets.

“As we’ve expanded into these markets around the world, we have gained insight into them through consulting firms and our own emerging market teams and our experiences as a company,” he said.“But we know that there are trends emerging, patterns, and we’d like to focus the research more intensely so as to better understand these trends and identify emerging opportunities.”

Old Mutual has operations in Latin America, China, India, and different parts of Africa.

Researcher, Farai Kapfudzaruwa with a wealth of experience in sustainability research, will be focusing on the base of the pyramid, working to find out how and why organisations innovate to provide products and services that meet the socio-economic and environmental needs of the poor.

“The base of the pyramid research focus is very relevant to emerging markets; markets that face highly complex social and environmental problems,” he says. Kapfudzaruwa will also be supervising MBAs and teaching on both the MBA and Postgraduate Diploma in Business Administration.

Also interested in the base of the pyramid, but from a finance perspective, German lecturer Co-Pierre Georg will be looking into microfinance as a source of finance for entrepreneurs in emerging economies.

“I always like a challenge and the base of the pyramid approach is extremely interesting and will allow me to analyse how microfinance can contribute to sustainable development and growth,” he says. “In comparison to the developed world, African economies are more agile as growing economies but traditional finance is limited and we need to find new and innovative ways to provide access to finance to young entrepreneurs.”

But appropriate finance is not the only way to unlock innovation in Africa. Verena Bitzer, from the Netherlands, will be considering cross-sector partnerships for innovation and more specifically on changing business models to include social issues.

“In emerging markets, the need for social development is much more pronounced than anywhere else in the world,” she says. “The potential of partnerships is obvious – innovation emerges when combining different sources of knowledge and experience. I’m interested in how collaborative processes create the interfaces necessary for generating innovative solutions to complex societal problems and what conditions are ideal for such processes to flourish.”

Another major challenge in emerging markets is providing housing for a growing population. Steven Nabieu Rogers joins the Old Mutual Fellowship team as the good governance and infrastructural development researcher, focusing on how property market issues affect development in Africa.

“For all the World Bank housing policies and other initiatives, the housing problem is worse than twenty years ago, with less access for the poor and a lower quality of housing stock,” he says. “I’m excited about emerging market research because it has the potential to affect positive change in the world.”

For lecturer in emerging market economics, Mundia Kabinga and the fifth member of the team part of that change will come if the entire global economy experiences sustained growth and that will only happen if large multinational companies start to focus their attention on serving the base of the pyramid.

“But very little research, if any at all, has been put into developing models of how to go about creating new products and business ecosystems at  the base of the pyramid,” he says. “That is the gap the OM Fellowship will be looking to fill.”

“The really exciting thing about the GSB is that a lot of effort is applied towards addressing the problems of organising and organisation that our society is currently facing,” he says.