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A Life Changing Decision


Daniël van Schouwenburg is now working in the multinational company Aurecon after he returned to South Africa.

Why go to Denmark three days after your wedding to study? Daniël van Schouwenburg from South Africa explains how he benefitted both professionally and personally.

27 year old computer engineer, Daniël van Schouwenburg decided to change his career path and broaden his horizons.

He went to Denmark in September 2010, three days after his wedding, to pursue a full-time Master of Business Administration (MBA) through the Emerging Leaders Scholarship Programme (ELSP) administered by Danida Fellowship Centre (DFC).

This was a life-changing decision.

How did you decide on pursuing studies in Denmark?

For a long time, I have been considering studying for an MBA. Realistically, I thought another South African university was my only option. To be 100% honest, I never really thought about pursuing international studies, especially not in Scandinavia, primarily because of the costs involved.

I was, however, contacted by Lee Milligan from Copenhagen Business School (CBS), who told me about the Emerging Leaders Scholarship Programme (see fact box). I decided to do some research. Denmark, the Danish way of doing sustainable business, their entrepreneurial spirit and also the quality of the school really caught my interest.

Were your studies in Denmark useful?

Oh yes! This can be answered from an academic and personal perspective.

The studies were definitely worthwhile, although you would expect to develop the more usual ‘business related’ competencies from an MBA such as economics and corporate finance. The aspects I felt were really value-adding were those the Danes pride themselves on, which include entrepreneurship, sustainability, corporate social responsibility and international mind-set in business.

From a personal development point of view, a major part of the studies focused on self-leadership and developing one’s leadership style. Skills such as coaching, appreciative feedback and reflection are tools I use on a daily basis, and I have changed how I interact with people on a daily basis.

Finally, and even though it was not financed by the Danida programme, I was privileged to take my newlywed wife with me to Denmark. Although there were as many tough times as there were sweet, we had an unforgettable and life-changing experience and brought many good habits from the Danish culture back to our home in South Africa.

How are you applying what you have learned in Denmark to your life in South Africa?

I believe the studies and experience gained in Denmark has had a massive impact on me as person.

From a professional point of view, I am an advisor in the electricity industry. Part of my role is to ensure that technical solutions are sustainable from a business and economic point of view, while considering affordability and the social impact. As such, there are many academic theories and models that I apply on an ongoing basis. I believe the Danish culture for sustainability, accountability and responsibility all are elements that are very important in this industry.

Will your studies in Denmark benefit South Africa?

I am fortunate to be able to work on projects that result in energy infrastructure development or optimisation in South Africa, and other African countries. The realization of these projects does benefit the people.

Has the international studies and experiences made it easier to work in the globalized economy?

It definitely has. Our studies focused a lot on doing business in BRICS countries and bottom-of-the-pyramid. Also, it focused on the relationship of European companies within these countries and the cultural differences and how to overcome these. Interestingly enough, I am now on the other side of the table, often engaging with European service or technology providers wanting to do business in Africa. I am thus relatively comfortable in engaging with various stakeholders understanding their point of view..

Also, the opportunity to be in a truly diverse and international environment for a year of full-time studies has definitely prepared me well for the global engagement and interaction.

Was studying in Denmark different from your previous educational experiences?

There are definite differences.

The Danish system is much less focused on individual performance of the learner, and thus I believe it is less competitive. I do think the Danish system encourages dialogue, discussions and collaboration which is a definite strong point. The Danish education system further provides vast and modern resources to assist and enable their students.

How did DFC contribute to your stay in Denmark?

Firstly, and most importantly, the DFC through the ELSP made it possible for me to study in Denmark. Apart from this, the DFC played an essential role in assisting me to settle in Copenhagen and provided a support network. Small things they did made a big difference like the fact that I was greeted at the airport and was provided a CPR card (Danish social security number) on arrival which enabled me to immediately open a bank account, telephone contract etc.

The DFC further encouraged social interaction between fellows through social events and talks. It assisted us in understanding the Danish culture and way of doing things.

Essentially, the DFC provided a home-base away from home. I was overwhelmed at the interest that the DFC took, with particular reference to Lene Mosegaard and Annette Kaalund-Jørgensen, in the progress of our studies and wellbeing.

What are your main takeaways from your time in Denmark? Has it changed your life?

It has definitely been a defining year in my life and change the direction of my life.

Professionally, it has opened various doors to me and the opportunities I have is currently limited only by barriers I impose on myself. The Danes have a mind-set that anything is possible and there are no limitations, which is something I aim to follow. I am energised by their innovative and entrepreneurial outlook on business. I will long treasure the opportunity to attend lectures by Roberto Verganti, one of the pioneers of Design Thinking and Innovation.

Personally, the opportunity my wife and I had to spend the year in Denmark is irreplaceable. Danish cultural aspects such as appreciation for design and quality, their minimalistic lifestyles and the appreciation and respect that they have for one another are main takeaways.

In South Africa

Prior to studying in Copenhagen, Daniël graduated as a Computer Engineer from the University of Pretoria in South Africa specializing in developing thermo-dynamic models and control system simulations for thermal power plants.

Daniël now works as a business and engineering consultant for Aurecon, a multinational engineering consulting firm with operations in Africa, Middle East and Australasia. His primary focus is Energy Advisory. He currently utilises his acquired MBA skills together with his engineering background to develop recommendations to a variety of Government and Private Sector clients in order to develop sustainable electricity and energy operations.

FACTS: Emerging Leaders Scholarship Programme

The programme started in 2007 and ended in 2012. Over the five-year period funding was put aside for scholarships to assist selected entrepreneurs and emerging business leaders from Danida’s programme countries to take the full-time Master of Business Administration (MBA) at the Copenhagen Business School (CBS), the full-time Sustainable MBA at Aarhus School of Business, Aarhus University or the Master in Science in Agricultural Economics with a focus on agribusiness at University of Copenhagen.

Read more about ELSP here

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