Working alongside MBA students, three Kroc master’s in peace studies students recently conducted two weeks of field research in the Philippines, Rwanda, and Uganda to explore how business can contribute to rebuilding war-torn regions.
James Adams, Ahmad Al-Hadidi, and Benjamin Bernard traveled with their classmates as part of “Business on the Frontlines,” a course led and developed by professor Viva Bartkus, associate professor of management in Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business and a fellow of the Kroc Institute.
“What we observed on this trip reinforced the hypothesis of the course—that business can contribute to peace,” said Bernard, who focused on coffee farmers in Mindanao, the Philippines. In Rwanda, Al-Hadidi met with local development agencies that support impoverished farmers. In Uganda, Adams studied how communities collect and manage water access fees.
In Mindanao, where violent conflict between indigenous, Muslim, and Christian groups has undermined economic development, Bernard and his classmates visited coffee plantations, interviewed local industry experts, and analyzed the coffee production process.
“We witnessed farmers using business practices – calculating the market value of their coffee, joining forces with other farmers for better bargaining power – to get themselves out of debt,” he said.
Field visits in the course are coordinated by Catholic Relief Services (CRS), a longtime partner of Notre Dame and the Kroc Institute. By the end of the spring 2011 semester, students in all three groups will present a report to CRS with their recommendations for development.
In previous years, the class sent students to Lebanon, Kenya and Uganda (2010) and Bosnia and Lebanon (2009). Students have written case studies on Bosnia that were published in Global Compact (United Nations Press), developed plans for CRS to launch a small business incubator in Sarajevo and to partner with a market research company in Lebanon, and designed projects in Kenya and Uganda to create new markets for ground nuts and soy beans.
“Business on the Frontlines,” was selected by Forbes.com as one of the 10 most innovative business classes in the United States. Notre Dame business and peace studies students who want to take the course must complete a lengthy application, and the process is competitive, Bernard says.
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