Global Development Institute Blog

Dr Rory Stanton, Programme Co-Director, MSc in Human Resource Development (International Development)

“Welcome to the Mother City” is the slogan that greets you as you make your way through Cape Town International Airport upon arrival. For those of us who have been lucky enough to have travelled there as part of the MSc in Human Resource Development (International Development) programme at the University of Manchester, we can safely say that we have always been very well looked after.

Situated at the southern tip of Africa and beside the impressive Table Mountain, Cape Town has generously hosted HRD students from the university for the last two years as they learn first-hand about some of the workplace realities faced by those running NGOs, local government institutes and departments, consultancy companies, as well as private businesses.

For the two previous semesters leading up to departure, students have tackled theories and concepts, worked hard to meet word counts for their essays and assignments, and confronted the challenge of ever-lengthening reading lists. Their trips have largely been to the library, the computer cluster, the lecture theatre, and the tutorial room. Now they have an opportunity to see what these often abstract models and frameworks look like in real life, and they get the rare chance to do this in the magnificent surroundings of the Western Cape.

Our journey begins when we depart Manchester, taking two flights to our ultimate destination. When we arrive we find that the northern European chill has been replaced by the sun and warmth of southern Africa. Blue skies typically greet us as we make our way to our accommodation to get some rest and to recuperate before our busy week of work begins.

During the students’ engagements with local organisations, it has been our privilege to learn of the processes and the problems, of the successes and the solutions, of the challenges overall, involved in enhancing the skills and capacities of those living in the Cape Town area, and beyond.

Since our study tours to Cape Town began, organisations such as The City of Cape Town, The Western Cape Provincial Training Institute at Stellenbosch, RLabs, GetSmarter/2U, Beyerskloof, PwC, and others have now become firm friends of the programme. We have learned from their experiences, witnessed their dedication, and understood the challenges they face as they work to improve the livelihoods of those in the region, and sometimes beyond.

Through our visits and interactions with different organisations students have begun to develop a greater appreciation of the role of human resource development in its many forms. We have heard from those in different organisations charged with identifying the challenges faced by those seeking to improve the lives of those in Cape Town and the Western Cape, we have also seen the commitment of local community workers who strive to help their neighbours improve their lives, the resolute determination of those charged with managing the city of Cape Town as it faces multiple challenges not least perennial water shortages, and also the enthusiasm and energy of those charged with building the skills and abilities of the Western Cape’s youth. It has been a humbling experience.

From large organisations to small, we have met dedicated and passionate individuals who see potential rather than problems, confront challenges with enthusiasm and creativity, and were then willing to pass on their knowledge and insights to those international students from The University of Manchester.

Furthermore, alongside the rich and stimulating interactions between our organisational friends and the student group, we have managed to pause every now and then and to appreciate what this part of the world offers its guests. For many students this will have been their first time visiting Africa, and they have had the opportunity of experiencing the stunning beauty of the southern African landscape from the top of Table Mountain, the surreality of the sandy beach penguins of Boulders Bay, and the obligatory group photograph at the Cape of Good Hope.

No description of our time in South Africa could be complete without a mention of a special group of people. One of the logistical problems we faced, of course, is how do we get so many students and staff members from one location to the next across the Western Cape? This was where Bradley, Nabeel, and Ricardo come to the rescue. Each day, without fail they not only got us to our destinations on time, but boosted often weary limbs and minds by providing history and language lessons, humour, and a reassuring confidence that we were going to be looked after very well.

Each year, this experience has been, without a doubt, the highlight of the HRD Masters programme with students through their feedback calling their adventure ‘inspiring’, ‘engaging’, ‘amazing’ and ‘fruitful’. Each trip has lasted ten days and for five of those days students from Manchester learned from those working hard to improve the lives of the people of Cape Town and the Western Cape. Despite returning to Manchester exhausted, their feedback also makes it clear that this time has had a profound impact on them personally, and that it has transformed how they see their time on the programme, and, helped form lifelong friendships and shared memories.