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Corporate Social Responsibility in South Africa

The two business students arrived at former home of Nelson Mandela turned national museum in Soweto, greeted by the sound of djembe drums as a group of men encircled them, singing and dancing to the beat.

Zarb in South Africa

It was the kind of welcome that reflected the spirit of South Africa and defined their experience as they immersed themselves in the culture and business practices of the country.

“Being there on the ground in the community makes you reflect on the true purpose of corporate social responsibility,” said Tylar Vigliarolo ’19, a management major. “It really motivates you to help more people.”

Vigliarolo and Julianna Cirafesi ‘19 were selected by the Frank G. Zarb School of Business to spend six weeks in South Africa interning for academic credit with AstraZeneca, a pharmaceutical company, during the summer of 2018. The trip, fully funded by The Geneen Foundation and coordinated by Management and Entrepreneurship Professor Richard Hayes and Senior Associate Dean Gioia Bales, gave the students hands-on consulting experience with an international corporation.

The students worked on AstraZeneca’s public access program for prostate and breast cancer. The program, called Phakamisa (a Zulu word meaning “to uplift”), is one of the company’s corporate social responsibility initiatives and impacts thousands of South Africans in low-income areas.

Cirafesi and Vigliarolo worked with the company’s local and international teams, as well as representatives from international non-profit organizations, to build everything from communications plans to hospitals.

“Taking off at JFK Airport, I was very nervous since it was my first time traveling outside the U.S. but also very excited,” said Tylar. “I knew we were about to work on a project that would positively impact the lives of so many people.”

The students worked primarily out the company’s office located in Johannesburg, but by week three both had traveled across the country to places including Cape Town, Soweto, and the rural town of Umtata. The diverse experiences allowed the students to better understand the relationship between the country’s history, culture and struggling healthcare system.

During their business trip to Cape Town, they visited public hospitals and clinics. They were informed of the disparities between the care that wealthier patients received compared to those from middle to lower income backgrounds.

“For a long time, the South African government has allocated funds to private hospitals and public hospitals equally,” said Cirafesi, a global studies major with minors in community health, business management, and geography. “The problem is, 80% of South Africans use the public healthcare system, creating a shortage in resources for public hospitals and a huge surplus for the private sector. Additionally, most public sector patients are South Africans of color. Even though apartheid was abolished, its effects can still be seen in hospitals.”

Cirafesi and Vigliarolo also met with representatives from the public access program’s partner organizations, the Prostate Cancer Foundation and the Breast Health Foundation, to negotiate contracts, strategize social media efforts, and rebrand the initiative to increase effectiveness.

Zarb in South Africa

“Regulations surrounding operation of pharmaceutical companies in South Africa are very stringent,” Cirafesi said. “We had to work hard to come up with messaging that clearly conveyed Phakamisa’s mission: to facilitate partnerships between all levels of the community and help spread awareness of breast and prostate cancer, while offering patients a hand to hold throughout their healthcare journey.”

About 700 miles away from Cape Town, in rural town of Umtata, Vigliarolo doctors from Nelson Mandela Memorial Hospital introduced him to some of the patients who would be using the new clinics he was there to help build.

“Most patients traveled four days just to see a doctor,” he explained. “When they got there, they’d have to sleep outside. I communicated with Julianna about what I was seeing and together we decided that Umtata would be the perfect place to build a center of excellence. This was going to be a one-stop shop for all patient needs with top-notch care and beds comparable to those found in American hospitals.”

Vigliarolo also used his business education to negotiate contracts with vendors and balance the finances for the Phakamisa program, which had a budget equivalent to $1 million.

“Even though we were interns, we were making high-level decisions about which contracts to sign and terminate, re-allocating funds, and handling most of the operations functions of the program,” he said. “We were more like consultants or project managers.”

Thanks in part to their efforts the Phakamisa program is now projected to help 3.7 million people by 2021 compared to its previous projection of 1.2 million.

To complement their work experience, the students spent time immersing themselves in the South African culture, browsing flea markets, exploring new restaurants, visiting the apartheid museum, and even hugging a cheetah.

“The two most impactful experiences for me were visiting Nelson Mandela’s house and the apartheid museum,” Cirafesi said. “At the museum, each visitor takes a card to be categorized as Non-white or White and from there, they would enter the museum separately to simulate the feeling of segregation during apartheid. It was an extremely important experience for me.”

Zarb in South Africa

Vigliarolo was stunned to learn there are penguins in South Africa.

“My friends didn’t believe me until I showed them a picture of one walking down the street and a colony of them standing around the beach,” he said. “The wildlife in South Africa is extraordinary. Julianna and I visited a nature preserve where we got up close and personal with some lions. I even hugged a cheetah! Surprisingly, they’re very calm animals.”

As the trip came to a close, the two students tied up loose ends on Phakamisa, helping the team create a comprehensive manual for future employees, which will significantly reduce on-boarding time.

“What’s most surprising is that when we began our internship, we were only supposed to be social media assistants,” Vigliarolo explained. “With Julianna’s background in health and mine in business, we both felt we could contribute so much more to the team and the program. After proposing our ideas to the president of AstraZeneca South Africa, we were given the reigns of the whole project. Honestly, we didn’t feel like interns at all.”

“I think the level of responsibility and leadership they trusted us with was a testament to the quality of Hofstra’s education,” he said.

Julianna has already researched graduate schools in South Africa with the hopes of pursuing a master’s degree in public health or epidemiology.

“Is it too cliché to say I’ll miss the people the most?” said Julianna. “I still talk to my Phakamisa colleagues and hope to go back to Johannesburg after college.”