Skip to main content
Employee Experiences

Faculty Development in International Business: From Blackouts to Breakthroughs

Many faculty at the BYU Marriott School of Business travel with and teach students on semester-long trips to other parts of the world. But on their separate visits to the African continent, Tom Meservy and Kristin DeTienne didn’t teach courses or sightsee with students. Through the Faculty Development in International Business program, these professors researched the business practices of other countries and returned with new insights to bring to their classrooms and their research.

A group of faculty pictured in front of a mural.
Faculty from various universities traveled together with the support of the CIBERs.
Photo courtesy of Kristen DeTienne.

The two BYU Marriott professors’ trips were sponsored by the Whitmore Global Business Center (GBC), with assistance from the US Department of Education (DoE), through the GBC’s designation as a Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER). The CIBER program assists faculty members who want to learn more about international business and bring global knowledge into the classroom.

Meservy, department chair and professor of information systems at BYU Marriott, visited Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland) and South Africa. He learned about how those countries adapted their business practices to cope with an unstable power grid, and he took note of how technology influences daily life. “Learning about business owners’ experiences reshaped how I view the impact of technology and the need for technology,” Meservy says.

Both commerce and education are impacted by technology in these countries, Meservy discovered. “The unemployment numbers in South Africa are astounding,” he explains, “but technology is enabling remote work and access to international opportunities that previously weren’t available.” Education is one of those opportunities. “Technology, through the use of tablets, is providing access to education to very poor segments of the population,” he says.

Children and a professor posing for a picture.
Meservy interacted with many locals during his professional development trip to Africa.
Photo courtesy of Tom Meservy.

While technology creates opportunity and extends access to education in South Africa, it also hinges on sufficient electricity, Meservy notes. “Accessing electricity is critical for technological infrastructure in a country. Dependable electricity is required for economic stability,” he says. Power-related blackouts commonly sweep across the country because of degrading infrastructure, negatively affecting businesses’ access to power.

Meservy observed how businesses adapt and respond to this scarcity. Many businesses have separate power generators to keep their business operating during the frequent power outages. “They have to be prepared to handle an inconsistent power supply,” he says.

At the conclusion of his trip, Meservy recognized the positive attitudes of people in South Africa. “Their economic challenges don’t determine their happiness, but their attitudes do. And it’s cool to see their happiness.”

DeTienne, professor of organizational behavior and human resources, set out on her trip a few weeks before Meservy in the summer of 2023. She also traveled through South Africa and observed how power blackouts affect local merchants.

One afternoon she visited a business owner selling skirts and observed that only one skirt was for sale at the booth. “The skirt had a rip in the fabric, so I asked her if she had more available,” DeTienne says. “She told me that she struggled to find a time to use her sewing machine when they had power.” DeTienne purchased the skirt and walked away with a greater understanding of the challenges of earning money in South Africa.

A person posing with a statue of Nelson Mandela.
DeTienne visited Nelson Mandela Square in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Photo courtesy of Kristen DeTienne.

Like Meservy, DeTienne also saw how businesses can adapt and thrive amid scarcity. DeTienne toured FlyZipline, a drone delivery company based out of San Francisco that established their first operations hub in Rwanda. The company delivers medicine, food, and other products to homes, businesses, and hospitals in the surrounding areas. “They have high-tech drones fly to and from an operations center,” she says. “That company helps thousands of people in the area who otherwise wouldn’t have access to essential supplies.”

In addition to her research on business practices, DeTienne also learned more about how South Africans fought for social change amidst Apartheid. Back at BYU Marriott, she applies these insights to her classroom lectures on organizational behavior. “I teach my students about some of the issues I saw regarding how to negotiate to change a system and fight for fairness,” she says.

Meservy was similarly inspired by the people he met in South Africa. “They move forward with faith despite their challenging circumstances,” Meservy says. “Their strength shapes my discussions on overcoming complex things in society. They helped me see life through a different lens, which gives me the tools to help students better understand the world around them.”


Written by Jake Holt