Mbali Mthethwa

Country of origin: South Africa

Project Management Consultant, Acutech Business Solutions

The main reason I chose the Lancaster MBA was that it was – and still is – not just about studying academic theory but a programme that integrates both career and personal development. It is structured in a way that helps you develop both as an individual and a professional. It provides you with an opportunity to acquire new professional skills while taking into account your existing skills and work experience. It’s also presented in a manner that takes away the anxiety of starting something new.

I had decided to join the programme because I felt trapped in one industry and wanted to change. An MBA therefore seemed an appropriate qualification that would allow me to access employment in various industries. At the same time, because I didn’t want to focus on theory alone, the Lancaster MBA style of teaching, with its practical modules such as the New Venture Challenge and Consultancy Challenge, was very appealing to me. It meant that while studying I would also get an opportunity to obtain overseas 'hands on' work experience. When I had completed the programme, the consultancy project work experience became my key to accessing the job market as a freelance management consultant.

The Lancaster MBA gave me an opportunity to build relationships with people from different cultures and different backgrounds. For me personally, at the beginning of the first term, it was frustrating having to get used to people’s behaviour, their communication styles and their expectations. As I communicated and worked with fellow classmates or teammates using different cultural habits and meaning systems, conflict was sometimes a possible outcome of our interaction, depending on whether we took responsibility for avoiding unnecessary conflict or strove to solve it positively. But the experience of being part of a multi-cultural team taught me to tolerate, accept and appreciate diversity.

I have now come to realise this was one of the most valuable skills for my career – and I wouldn’t exchange it for anything. Because so much teamwork was involved, it became my priority to make sure that I was on good terms with my classmates as they became part of my professional network, my friends and my University family. At the end, the hard work and long hours were all worth it!

Since completing the MBA, I’ve been busily juggling a number of different responsibilities. I am a freelance consultant at Development Works in Cape Town, where I’m involved in writing business plans, and planning, researching and implementing various community development projects. I am also Project Manager for a theatre company, organising the company’s tours and looking after its personnel and its administrative systems. And I also serve on the Executive Committee of the Ford Foundation International Fellowship Program Alumni Association (FIFPAA) for South Africa, where my role as Treasurer requires me to advise on the organisation’s financial affairs and means that I am also very much involved in its strategic planning.