Associate Professor Suki Goodman and her team in the marketing section of the School of Management Studies at the University of Cape Town (UCT) have won the 2019 Vice-Chancellor’s Transformation award. It took gritty determination, said Goodman, who is head of the school. She spoke with the newsroom’s Helen Swingler.
HS: What was the team’s response to winning this award and what does it mean to the marketing section?
SG: The response was profound excitement that our efforts are being recognised. Recognition of this kind is hugely encouraging – external affirmation of the path we have taken is intrinsically motivating; it fortifies conviction. Of all the awards to win, this is, in our minds, the highest of achievements. For me, personally, the day I received notification of the award was the best HoD-day to date.
HS: For context, please describe the school and its work.
SG: The School of Management Studies is an unusual department in the Faculty of Commerce as it is configured like a mini faculty made up of sub-divisions or discipline-specific sections. These include Actuarial Science (ActSci), Marketing, Organisational Psychology (Org Psych), Applied Management and the Professional Communication Unit. At the undergraduate level we have Bachelor of Business Science (BBusSc) programmes in ActSci, Marketing and Org Psych; and the BCom Management Studies is housed in our school.
We have multiple postgraduate programmes across the various divisions, including taught and full-research based master’s; and a suite of postgraduate diplomas in management in various fields such as entrepreneurship, business communication, sports and marketing. The school also houses two research units: the first, Centre for Actuarial Research (CARe), is aligned to Actuarial Science; the second, UCT Liberty Institute for Strategic Marketing, is aligned to Marketing.
HS: It takes something special to win a transformation award. What did it take for the marketing section?
SG: Prior to 2013 the marketing section had no black academic staff. While previous attempts were made to increase the staff equity profile, several factors slowed progress. These included the contextual realities of South Africa’s higher education sector, which hosts a grievously low number of black marketing PhDs. This scarcity of skill was compounded by the reality of us competing with corporate salaries for those with the required expertise. At that time the academic project was being kept afloat by the excellent but small number of staff in the section. Resource availability and staff churn over the next few years facilitated the opportunity to tackle some of the transformation challenges facing both the section and the school.
The recruitment exercises that followed positioned both equity and transformation at the centre and forefront of their processes. With this clear and uncompromising focus, we were fortunate to attract a cohort of new and emerging black academics whose research areas and orientations, their ontological and epistemological leanings, their innovative and inclusive pedagogic philosophies and socially engaged scholarship laid the foundation for deep and embedded transformation work to take hold.
Six years later, they are a young, diverse and ambitious section committed to transformative excellence. There is a dynamism among the team, an authentic organically evolved sense of collegiality, mutual care and respect. Collectively they are attuned to the needs of the local environment and the call for world-class scholarship and teaching.
HS: The award recognises “outstanding contributions to UCT’s mission and objectives through the African, decolonial, inclusive and pioneering innovation in both curricula and research”. How did the team effect transformation through curricula?
SG: The team has and continues to interrogate the curriculum and identify areas that don’t provide adequately African perspectives on important subjects. We have strongly aligned our case study teaching to be South African-focused instead of borrowing from the plethora of international case studies. As part of this process, we’ve also written our own cases to push localised content in the absence of providers elsewhere. For example, the postgraduate diploma course, International Marketing, now includes 20% coursework on marketing in sub-Saharan Africa, using specifically designed UCT-generated content.
In our largest course (BUS2010 – Marketing I), which services all business science students, we’ve paid special attention to a “deliberateness in language” programme where we focus on inclusive teaching and challenging students to be socially responsive in their outputs for the course. This has been coupled with a co-creation of knowledge approach in addressing subjects like marketing with sensitivity to the marginalised sectors of society. Through this we’ve addressed complex issues like the impact of ‘black tax’ on household expenditure and consumer behaviour. This initiative has been spearheaded by Lebogang Mototo.
In our consumer behaviour courses, we’ve pushed many students out of their comfort zones to consider life in low-income households. This year, Nqobile Bundwini’s class defined models of low-income decision-making at a household level to further a discipline that lacks representation of South Africa (and the world’s) majority poor population. As a section, we’ve had three articles published on the subject in 2019, including in highly rated international journals like the European Business Review and Journal of Consumer Marketing.
HS: How does this local content compare with existing material?
SG: While localising our curriculum, and as part of a substantial curriculum refresh, we’ve done international benchmarking to ensure excellence across the board. We have maintained the stance that we must be both African and world-class in all that we do. In 2019 we received a grant from the Centre for Innovation in Learning and Teaching (CILT) for an open-source marketing textbook. For a few years we had been pushing to provide open resources to alleviate some of the burden of expensive marketing textbooks. We’re proud to say that the book is almost complete and is expected to be released next year.
HS: And how is transformation being reflected in the department’s research?
SG: In the spirit of open-minded scholarship, we have begun to pursue more inclusive themes in our research and themes that align to a conceptualisation of marketing for a better world. Our academics are currently pursuing topics like queer marketing (Nkosivile Madinga), African veganism (Lebogang Mototo), cannabis trade (Nqobile Bundwini), low-income consumer behaviour (James Lappeman) and social marketing (Siphiwe Dlamini). The openness to engage in broader forms of scholarship has challenged our view of the world. Neuroscience is a sub-discipline in our research (Pragasen Pillay) and we have a cohort of master’s and PhD students working in this field. For example, one study is investigating language, and specifically code-switching, in advertising, using these cutting-edge techniques. In 2018─2019 our researchers have represented UCT at conferences in the United States, Czech Republic, Germany, Australia, Portugal, England and New Zealand.
In the past 12 months we’ve published 15 academic journal articles, many in strong international journals in our field, including the Journal of Business and Industrial Marketing, British Food Journal, International Journal of Advertising, Society and Business Review and Journal of Cleaner Production.
“Nothing comes from nothing; hard work and difficult choices underlie successful organisational change and organisational culture change.”
HS: Are there lessons or benefits from your experiences that you can share with other UCT departments?
SG: On reflection, the number of lessons learned are innumerable and we continue to learn every day – together and individually. And there is also some degree of luck in our success. I was fortunate to participate in a series of recruitment and selection processes that attracted to UCT this new generation of what I believe will be academic superstars in all spheres of their academic life. [These are] seriously ambitious researchers who expect excellence from themselves, who are at the same time deeply committed teachers and, most importantly, tremendous human beings. I think a critical lesson is that nothing comes from nothing; hard work and difficult choices underlie successful organisational change and organisational culture change.
Other lessons relate to the need for courage to tackle historical malaise, reframing disruption as opportunity, embracing the grittiness of process, broadening the capacity for listening and then deepening it as far as it can go. On a personal level, the greatest lesson for me as manager is to keep stretching my capacity for self-awareness. This might sound trite, but in truth it is, in my opinion, the fulcrum on which managing change rests.
HS: Last word?
SG: The transformed environment that we desire also comes from the important task of holding ourselves to account. After experiences of sexual harassment in the department, two colleagues took appropriate action, with full support. A sexual harassment workshop was initiated, presented by UCT’s Office for Inclusivity and Change (OIC), and a disciplinary process was followed. Counselling was also made available to those affected. Transformation was thus framed and carried out with intersectionality at its core. We are particularly proud of this as we advocated, demanded and defended an environment of respect and dignity; in a small way rising up against the endemic sexual and gender-based violence in our society.
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