MBA success stories: Greg Macfarlane, University of Cape Town GSB (South Africa)

Greg Macfarlane gained his MBA at the University Of Cape Town Graduate School Of Business in 2013. During this time there, he became interested in social innovation and impact investing and enrolled in the UCT Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Greg’s experiences and skills allowed him to get an internship at Edge Growth, which was extended and he was ultimately offered a permanent role there. He is now the Investment Head at Edge Growth, focused on managing the investment team for the ASISA Enterprise and Supplier Development (ESD) Fund.

Tell us about your current role
My current role is Investment Head at Edge Growth, specifically focused on managing the investment team for the ASISA Enterprise and Supplier Development (ESD) Fund. Edge Growth is a business which aims to grow SMEs through a combination of acceleration support (non-financial), access to markets (revenue growth), and access to capital (debt, equity, mezzanine) to businesses in the ‘missing middle’, as they cannot access traditional forms of financing. My role focusses on the access to capital pillars, managing the deployment of capital for the ASISA ESD Fund into high growth businesses within the supply chains of ASISA members (asset managers and insurers in South Africa), while additionally linking these businesses into multiple corporate supply chains enabling ‘access to market.’

When and where did you achieve your MBA?
I completed my MBA at the University Of Cape Town Graduate School Of Business in 2013, as a Bertha Scholar, with a concentration on social innovation and impact investing.

What is the most interesting thing you learnt from your MBA?
During my MBA I took a concentration in social innovation and impact investing, which is offered through the UCT Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship. I have always had a passion for the theme of social justice but had largely been focussed on these activities through involvement outside of work, on weekends, through church etc.

I think the MBA and the contact with the Bertha Centre in particular helped me to connect the dots between my career and my passion for social justice. I realised that the two did not need to be mutually exclusive, and the ideas of social innovation / entrepreneurship and impact investing had become significant global trends as well as a viable career path.

How has the MBA made a difference in your life? In particular, your career path and leadership journey?
At the time of considering MBAs, I was looking for a programme which offered a combination of cutting edge content in the social innovation and impact investing areas, while also offering the opportunity to gain practical experience through internship opportunities.

While researching programmes, I was attracted to the Oxford, IESE, and INSEAD programmes in Europe / UK, as well as the Duke, Kellogg, and Yale programmes in the US. I was conflicted by the challenge of taking on a large amount of foreign debt which, I thought, may limit my ambition to effectively transition into an impact career.

My girlfriend at the time changed her study plans from France to Cape Town, and this was the tipping point for me to return back to South African shores in 2011. Around the same time, I co-incidentally received an email from the University of Cape Town GSB about how they had launched a new centre called the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship, headed up by Dr Francois Bonnici, a global though leader on social innovation and entrepreneurship, and other world class faculty from world class institutions (three of whom were from Oxford). This was an exceptional fit for me except for the fact that the UCT full time programme did not allow for internships. As internships were important for me, I chose to enrol in the modular programme and look for internships in between each module across a range of areas such as impact investing, social entrepreneurship, and non-profit and development consulting to get a feeling of the full impact eco-system.

My first internship was at Edge Growth along with two other MBA interns from Chicago Booth. It was initially scheduled for a three month period, but I extended it to six because of my enjoyment of the working for the company.

Towards the end of my internship, I was in the process of interviewing for a further internship at Dalberg, when I received an offer to join Edge on a full time basis, as part of the team to establish a Cape Town office. Based on my enjoyment on the work Edge was involved in, and its exceptional people, this was an offer that I could not refuse. I joined full time in January 2012 as an Investment Associate.

The past five years have been an incredible journey in growing our Cape Town team from three to 15 individuals, and our AUM to R400mn across two funds, with a third in the pipeline in the technology / innovation space. During this time, my role has developed into an Investment Head role, leading the Cape Town investment team across all funds.

I have retained a very close relationship with the UCT GSB, and the Bertha Centre. I have hired seven UCT MBAs, and kept in touch with the fellow Bertha Scholar community, as well as partnering on the Bertha / World Bank Green Outcomes Fund. It would be no understatement to stay that the UCT GSB and the Bertha Centre have been instrumental in helping me to fund my MBA as a Bertha Scholar, inspiring my career transition into the impact investing space. They both continue to be valuable partners in shaping my career path and thinking.

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