Course Spotlight: Mendoza’s “Business on the Frontlines”

The University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business offers an innovative course called Business on the Frontlines, taught by Viva Bartkus, an associate professor of business management. The goal for the 19 MBA students participating in this course? To explore business in a real life context in countries trying to rebuild their economies after a war or violent conflict.

The two components of the course, first taught in spring 2009, are a classroom segment where students study developmental economies and topics related to peace-through-commerce efforts, and a field visit to explore in detail the activities and impact of local and international business in post-war reconstruction societies.

In mid-December, the students split into three teams and traveled to Lebanon, Kenya and Uganda.

“I had hoped that the students would do a deep-dive into Lebanon, learning as much as they could in advance, and then use the time in the country to meet a rich cross-section of people, and to dig even deeper,” said Edward Conlon, management professor and associate dean of the Mendoza College, who accompanied the Lebanon team (see his commentary here).

“And I think this plan worked beautifully.  In just a week or so, the students have been able to ask very nuanced and well-informed questions of bankers, business people and political leaders that enable them to see both the opportunities and challenges faced by business in Lebanon and, indeed, the country as a whole.”

The teams that traveled to Kenya and Uganda witnessed entrepreneurial efforts ranging from farming to tourism possibilities. In the process, the MBAs learned about microfinance and the work being done by various churches to start and support businesses. After talking with business leaders in the small town of Migori, the Kenyan team gave the leaders some time to turn the tables and ask about them about their lives.

“Everyone had only one question:  ”˜What advice can you guys as business students give me to help me improve my business?’” said MBA candidate Garrett Busch. “It isn’t just the business owners either.  The whole country is just dying to learn more. They are so hungry for it, but their potential is just being handcuffed because of the lack of development and the government corruption.”

Photos and blog entries about the current students’ trip can be found at: http://businessonthefrontlines.blogspot.com/

source: Mendoza College of Business

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