Sheetal Patel

Sheetal Patel BSILR '14

ILR International Travel Grant

Cape Town, South Africa

Sheetal Patel

This summer I had an amazing experience living and working in Cape Town, South Africa. I spent eight weeks interning at Reciprocity, a South African based consultancy working to optimize the contribution of the private sector to social and economic development. As a part of my work, I spent time in communities at the “Base of the Pyramid” (BoP), interacting with the most inspiring and ambitious individuals I have ever met. The entire experience was phenomenal and I came away with a more directed focus on what line of work I would like to find myself in, in the future.

My workload consisted primarily of research that took place both at the desk and on the field. I was the only intern at the time, which allowed me to work extremely closely with the two founders and assist them on trips to the townships outside the city center of Cape Town. We would identify entrepreneurs whose business initiatives improved the social and economic conditions of their communities. Through our consulting services, I learned a lot about what individual entrepreneurs require to sustain their businesses, a lot of which revolves around labor and being capable of employing workers.  

Although the work was primarily business related, it was important for me to understand the labor market in not only the local area but in South Africa as a whole. I had the chance to do independent research on an issue I noticed was affecting the BoP at the time and through that I learned a great deal about South African labor market economics. I chose to create a fact sheet on the bread industry and its effect on consumer’s economic and health choices.

I also worked on identifying notable social business initiatives based in South Africa and connecting the people that started these projects to Reciprocity and corporations that could potentially benefit from their work. We would conduct interviews to try and get a feel of their goals and areas they needed assistance in.

My experience was enriching on so many levels. I learned about the positive effects that can result from bridging the gap between business and social development. Through the process, I also learned about how employment and working conditions vary significantly from the city of Cape Town itself and its townships. South Africa is a prime location to learn more about social business and economic development. I am extremely thankful to ILR for aiding me in my summer journey and would really love to see more students in ILR and Cornell traveling and working in South Africa.