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Sugar Industry in Focus in PhD

April 24, 2015

GSB&L Lecturer and PhD graduate Dr Cecile Gerwel-Proches.
GSB&L Lecturer and PhD graduate Dr Cecile Gerwel-Proches.

UKZN Graduate School of Business and Leadership (GSB&L) Lecturer Dr Cecile Gerwel-Proches, was awarded a PhD for her thesis titled: “An Application of Systems Methodologies to investigate Social Complexity at the Felixton Mill area”.

Her research, supervised by Dr Shamim Bodhanya, focused on applying Soft Systems Methodology (SSM) as a means of comprehending social complexity in the mill area which is an important component of the South African sugar industry and characterised by diverse stakeholders who have multiple and often competing objectives.

The research highlighted the value of applying SSM to comprehend social complexity in this type of context, and contributed to social complexity theory, systems and complexity theory and leadership literature.

In 2010, Gerwel-Proches participated in the multi-disciplinary project her PhD forms part of. ‘The larger project was aimed at finding improvement processes for use in the sugar cane supply and processing system, and included a focus on the hard and soft aspects of the sugar industry. I was excited to engage in research which draws on my areas of expertise, which include leadership, organisational behaviour, systems thinking and complexity theory.'

‘I had a chance to do real research into issues in complex organisational systems, such as leadership, power, organisational culture, decision-making, and values,’ she said. ‘My research involved constant interaction with the participants, who included growers, millers, hauliers, and industry partners.

‘The study involved numerous interviews and SSM workshops which provided me with an opportunity to eventually move from a point of gaining an understanding of the issues to engaging stakeholders on their recommendations for moving forward and taking action. This corresponded to the collaborative, participatory action research nature of SSM, as moving from expert to process facilitator,’ she said.

As an academic in a research-led institution, Gerwel-Proches has already published parts of her thesis in academic journals and has presented at local and national conferences.

During her studies Gerwel-Proches continued to excel academically, professionally and personally. On completion of a full research Masters in 2010 she began her PhD journey and during the same year started as a lecturer in the GSB&L. In the midst of her studies she gave birth to her daughter.

At home she worked under the watchful eye of her husband who is also an academic at UKZN.

‘I was kept motivated by so many people, including my family, supervisor, colleagues and even students, who were constantly asking me about my PhD. Being in an academic environment, and having a husband who is an academic, naturally helped.’

The Dean and Head of the GSB&L, Professor Theuns Pelser, congratulated Gerwel-Proches on her achievement which will enable the College of Law and Management Studies to meet its goal of increasing the number of staff with PhDs.

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