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Business Schools Reaching Out to Iraq and Afghanistan

MBA programs usually send their students out into the world to acquire practical experience. This time around, however, two U.S. business schools--Arizona's Thunderbird School of Global Management and Indiana's Ball State University--are reaching out to peers in Afghanistan and Iraq to provide the tools necessary to re-build the war-torn countries.

  • Thunderbird offers a mini-MBA program in its Arizona headquarters for businesswomen from Afghanistan and supports ongoing business training through The American University of Afghanistan.
  • Ball State is investing $2 million in U.S. government grants in business projects at Tikrit University in Iraq and Kandahar University in Afghanistan.

These initiatives not only benefit the targeted countries, but also attract students to the stateside MBA programs. Thunderbird's 1,339 students come from 76 countries and are likely involved in global business and social projects.

"I am educated, I have a business, I have my health, I have everything and more," Thunderbird MBA Ilaha Eli Omar says during a school interview. "So it is my responsibility now to take everything I have learned and pass it back to Afghanistan."

Omar's parents fled an Afghanistan in turmoil in 1979, 40 days after her birth, resettling in Southern California. A naturalized U.S. citizen, Omar launched her own business in 2003 and should complete her Thunderbird MBA by 2012. Her desire to help her native country led her to Thunderbird after learning about the school's commitment to Afghan businesswomen.

Business Schools for Free Markets and Stability

The U.S. Department of State has granted Ball State a $1 million grant to help Kandahar University develop curricula emphasizing free market principles and entrepreneurship in its new College of Economics.

"This project will allow Kandahar University to be the first public higher education institution in Afghanistan to highlight free-market principles in its economics curricula," says Ken Holland, dean of Ball State's Rinker Center for International Programs.

Richard Boyum, the State Department's university linkages and program evaluation coordinator for Afghanistan and Pakistan, says the intention is to foster economic and business development, integration into the global economy, and peace and stability.

"Ball State has an opportunity to help Kandahar fulfill its potential as an engine of economic growth in the southern region, an area that is vital to Afghanistan's political and economic future," Boyum says.

Ball State is also assisting Kandahar University with the development of an English language program and the opening of a career center. Computer labs have also opened at Kandahar University, while a banking school is in the works in Kabul, according to the Pajhwok Afghan News agency.

At Tikrit University in Iraq, meanwhile, Ball State is investing another $1 million grant in working with faculty and administrators to transform English, computer science and accounting curricula and to open another career center.

"Ball State has many academic programs and professors with particular expertise that are desperately needed in these developing countries," Holland explains to thestarpress.com, adding Uzbekistan could be Ball State's next stop.

An MBA Program for Afghan Businesswomen

Since 2005, Thunderbird has hosted Project Artemis, an intensive, two-week entrepreneurship training program to enable businesswomen from Afghanistan to develop their small businesses, create jobs, and rebuild their country. In 2010, 19 women honed their business skills at Thunderbird. They own a variety of businesses, ranging from construction companies to food production ventures. For instance:

  • Maryam, 22, owns a women's only Internet café in Jawazjan.
  • Najiba, 46, from Herat employs 100 women in her wool processing business.
  • Fatemah, 45, has owned a carpentry business in Kabul for six years.

The Afghan entrepreneurs benefit from the ongoing advice of Thunderbird students, professors and alumni, business executives, and public officials. After graduation and a Washington visit, they returned to Afghanistan to put into practice their training. So far, 63 women have graduated from Project Artemis, including Aziza Mohammed owner of the Muska Leather & Ball Making Company in Afghanistan. Some 200 women produce the 10,000 or so soccer balls Muska sells annually.

The owner of a food processing company in Herat, Nasimgol Azizi spoke in Dari through an interpreter on behalf of the 2010 Project Artemis class during graduation. She commended educational projects like Artemis for providing them the tools needed to rebuild Afghanistan and reflected on their experience as women in Afghanistan.

"We must not forget that a few years ago, these women sitting here were not even able to leave their homes alone. If they did, the Taliban would threaten them and whip them," Azizi said. "As an Afghan woman, I want to affirm that a woman is capable of holding a cradle in one hand and the world in the other."