Sixteen Notre Dame MBA students pitched in to help Iraqi and Afghani entrepreneurs bring their goods and services to market recently through a targeted U.S. State
“This project starts with finding local capitalists and tries to match them with partners and resources,” explained Steve Kaplitt, director of the State Department’s Economic Empowerment in Strategic Regions (EESR) initiative. “In most cases, the local entrepreneur knows his or her market and region, but they don’t know how to scale up with international partners or donors.” This is where the MBAs come in. They take the raw proposal, identify and address problems, then create and fashion a business proposal that is marketable to Western audiences.
Second-year MBA student Eric Litton took on two proposals from Afghanistan, one focused on tomato processing, the second on creating a cotton-ginning facility. “Both of the projects stressed relieving the dependence local farmers had on illegal poppy
production,” said Litton.
These proposals were hardly market-ready. “When we first got the info on the tomato project, it was one paragraph, seven pages long, of pure information,” said Litton. “We had to sift and sort through the document to pull out what was relevant and what was not, which took some time.”
Fundamental to the initiative is the belief that jobs help deter political extremism. “If these proposals become sustainable businesses and create employment opportunities that produce incomes and food on the table, there is less likelihood that disruptive things will occur,” said Mike Vogel, the entrepreneur-in-residence at Notre Dame’s Gigot Center for
Entrepreneurial Studies who oversaw the students’ participation.
Danny Wang’s (MBA ’08) project involved helping a group of doctors who wanted to build a medical testing laboratory in Iraq. “These were doctors who had been on the ground and saw a tremendous need,” he said. The four-person team drew from multiple aspects of the Notre Dame curriculum, from marketing and finance to consulting and entrepreneurship. “I viewed this project as a capstone of sorts on my Notre Dame MBA experience,” Wang added.
The State Department planned to post vetted proposals to a Web site for review by potential investors in late fall of 2008.