New centre seeks to break down silos and build connections in a divided world

The John Madejski Centre for Reputation Africa launching in Cape Town this week will advance research into reputation and relationships in an African context, and is the culmination of a remarkable 20-year relationship between Henley Business School at the University of Reading in the UK and the not-for-profit sector in Cape Town.

After 20 years of working with the not-for-profit sector in Cape Town, the John Madejski Centre for Reputation (JMCR) at Henley Business School in the UK will open a dedicated sister centre in the City this week.   

The new centre will be based at Henley Business School Africa’s (Henley Africa) Cape Town campus and will provide a physical space for the JMCR’s growing African network to connect, as well as on-the-ground support to drive new African research into the mechanisms of how organisations build and maintain stakeholder relationships for sustainable impact.  

“Understanding what the relationships are that drive business and how you build and protect these is crucial for any sustainability strategy, especially in an increasingly divided, post COVID world,” says Professor Kevin Money, Director of the JMCR. “This is true whether you are a JSE-listed company or a not-for-profit.”  

According to the World Bank, the building blocks of social sustainability are inclusive, just, and resilient societies where citizens have voice and governments listen and respond. But this depends on the quality of relationships between these stakeholders. “We live in a fracturing world, and it is only by building better relationships that we can hope to bridge these divides,” says Professor Money.  

He adds, “At the JMCR we’ve developed a model that has been used successfully by numerous companies, governments and charities globally to build trust in stakeholder relationships. By expanding our knowledge of how we do this in African contexts, and integrating this wisdom into existing practices and models, the world as a whole can only benefit.”  

To this end, the JMCR Africa launch coincides with the publication of a groundbreaking new case study on understanding traditional leadership in Africa, which is the first of its kind to be published by an international case centre. Co-authored by JMCR Africa staff and partners, the case study showcases the calibre of the work that the centre has been doing in South Africa for many years – and wants to do more of.   

Professor Money explains that the JMCR has been active in Cape Town for two decades and since 2007, more than 500 Henley MBA students – from the UK and, more recently, from Finland, Germany and Denmark as well – have worked with upward of 100 Cape-based NGOs to improve their work delivery and stakeholder engagement, as part of the Henley international Executive MBA’s Reputation and Responsibility module.   

Professor Danie Petzer, Head of Research at Henley Africa, says that the establishment of the new African-based centre for reputation management is part of a broader strategy at the school to build out African knowledge to inform African success. “Africa has unique social, environmental, and governance and related stakeholder management challenges – and innovative solutions to these. As such, it has important insights that can inform the world. Knowledge like this can help build economies and a more resilient world.”  

“South Africa has one of the most vibrant not-for-profit sectors in the world, and these purpose-driven organisations have a tremendous amount to teach leaders globally about responsible leadership and sustainable business,” agrees Wilma De Souza, Cape Town Manager at Henley Business School Africa.

 The engagements between Henley and the NGOs are co-created, with the NGOs deciding which stakeholder group they want to focus on, while Henley MBA students bring expertise in reputation management and strategy. And like all the best, well-managed relationships, these engagements are a two-way street.  

 “The MBA students themselves gain as much, if not more, from the experience than the NGOs themselves,” says De Souza. “Many are deeply impressed in particular by how much the not-for-profit organisations have been able to achieve with so few resources.” 

 Henley is one of the oldest business schools in Europe and has an extensive global network with campuses in the UK, Africa, Finland and Denmark. The fast-growing Henley Africa – which provides over two thirds of Henley’s total MBA student numbers – has been active for the past three decades with a campus in Johannesburg, and, more recently, in Cape Town. From 2023, Henley Africa is offering three of its management development undergraduate programmes and its Postgraduate Programme in Management Practice from its Cape Town campus. 

 Dean of Henley Africa, Jon Foster-Pedley, says: “We are delighted to be working in closer collaboration with our UK colleagues in globalising our social impact work. Henley across the world is committed to bringing value to society through learning and research, as indeed is our parent university, the University of Reading UK which operates under a charitable status. The JMCR’s establishment at our Cape Town campus closely aligns with Henley Africa’s own social enterprise initiative called MBAid which has worked with over 800 NGOs in Africa and provided more scholarships per annum than any other business school in Africa.” 

 Many of the NGO leaders that have worked with Henley have also participated in one of the school’s executive development programmes on leading for sustainability and societal impact – and are now part of the business school’s 90,000-strong global alumni network. The NGOs are also connected into Henley’s global John Madejski Impact Partnership that was launched during the pandemic as a virtual hub to connect global leaders from all sectors in a safe space to focus on issues of reputation and relationship.  

 What you find with a lot of organisations currently is that they are struggling for purpose,” comments Professor Money. “Of course, not-for-profits, such as those in our Cape Town networks have purpose in spades, so the knowledge sharing and cross pollination in this forum has been potent. Leaders from diverse contexts have been able to come together to connect and build trust. 

 “Working together in this way, we can really fast-forward progress,” he says. “We all need an excuse to get out of our own silos. If you have a reason to connect with someone that is genuine and mutually beneficial, we can create deep relationships that might just help us heal the world. 

Photo caption: Tarisai Mchuchu-MacMillan of MOSAIC shares a story on the importance of collaboration as a tool for fundraising.

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