Student view:

Gigi Ngcobo: Applied knowledge is power

Feb. 25, 2020

Gigi Ngcobo is a senior studying finance and user experience design and is a member of the Honors College. She is an advocate for the development of emerging markets and organized the inaugural MSU African Business Symposium last year. Gigi was recently featured on the globalEDGE Business Beat podcast to talk about her goals and how she’s already making a difference. 

“Knowledge is power” is a popular idiom, commonly interpreted to mean that the more you comprehend, the more valuable you are. It prioritizes the act of acquiring information while diminishing the importance of its application. “Applied knowledge is power” would be my recommended alternative, emphasizing that authentic influence comes from your ability to use the information learned to make an impact.

As students, we often delay applying our learnings because we feel inexperienced or believe our education is for the sole purpose of future employment. However, if we look at our entire lives as a collection of lessons, then it’s possible to realize that we have the power to start executing our ideas immediately to make a significant contribution in our society. This was my guiding principle as I worked on creating the inaugural MSU African Business Symposium last year.

I came to MSU from South Africa in 2016 and studied finance and UX Design in the Eli Broad College of Business and the College of Communication Arts and Sciences respectively. I’ve had the opportunity to work for the corporate strategy division of the Barclays Africa Group in South Africa and ID Ventures, the most active early investment venture capital fund in Michigan. These experiences cemented my general business knowledge while exposing me to a critical problem that my peers and I were confronting; inadequate training in working within emerging markets, specifically in Africa and Latin America.

Classes and study abroad opportunities that centered on international business were skewed, exposing students to mostly Eastern and Western markets at the expense of most of the global south. This meant that students entering the job market would be ill-equipped to work in the intercontinental business landscape and would potentially miss out on the opportunity to do impactful work while participating in these lucrative markets.

Recognizing this gap in our curriculum, I was inspired to create the inaugural African Business Symposium in 2019: a half-day conference centered on exploring venture capital, technology and entrepreneurship in Africa. The sessions were chaired by C-suite business leaders from ADG Technologies, Trans Sahara Investment Corporation and Sunray Ventures. Students and local entrepreneurs came together to discover why more than $720 million was invested into African start-ups last year – a 25% increase from 2017 – and how to overcome the challenges of operating a business in this market. It was also a chance for future business leaders to form partnerships that are essential when navigating the African business ecosystem.

The African Business Symposium infused power to the many lessons I had learned from peers, professors, internships, student organizations and my childhood in South Africa. The experience brought to light how we all have infinite intelligence because of our unique experiences and how sharing this knowledge with others allows us to ensure that our society keeps developing. Thus, we must frequently find or create spaces where we apply our knowledge by challenging our current environment and inventing solutions.