Mendoza School of Business

Business on the Frontlines

Be A Force For Good

Cardinal O’Hara, the founder and first dean of the College of Business, famously said “commerce can and does advance civilization.” At Notre Dame, we take this to heart and why we weave lessons on societal impact into our courses as much as bottom line impact. No class at Notre Dame embodies this ethos more than Business on the Frontlines. Business on the Frontlines (BOTFL) examines the impact of business in societies affected by extreme poverty and conflict. As a course in the Notre Dame MBA program, BOTFL provides opportunities for students and alumni to engage and partner with non-profit organizations and multi-national companies to work together to rebuild societies after war and help prevent their reversion to conflict.

Not limited to multi-disciplinary course work in the classroom, graduate students and faculty from across the University of Notre Dame work directly on business and peace-related projects with partners in the field, primarily international humanitarian organizations. Many BOTFL projects focus on agriculture, infrastructure and mining, as these economic sectors can frequently absorb large numbers of unskilled young men after conflict. Our projects have also extended to micro-finance, youth unemployment, post-civil war reconciliation, business incubators, health and nutrition, human trafficking, child prostitution, and disaster preparedness.

There’s sprucing up a languishing company, and then there’s dropping into war zones and helping to rebuild entire economies. Forbes, The 10 Most Innovative Business School Classes

Course Overview

Business on the Front Lines (BOTFL) examines the impact of business on rebuilding post conflict
societies through service to local partners. The student application for BOTFL will be available during the fall term.

At the end of this course, students should be able to:

  • Define a problem in highly uncertain environments from a set of ambiguous information
  • Work effectively and professionally in different cultural environments
  • Drive impact on business and peace related problems working with local partners
  • Develop increased sensitivity toward the impact of business in society

Serving Partners

In the past, students have had the opportunity to add value to our partners’ initiatives by engaging in the following activities:

  • Investigative Research—Teams conduct research on specific industries, problems or issues both in-country and at Notre Dame to provide varying viewpoints on the issues.
  • Interviews—Teams are equipped and trained to meet and interview individuals in various industries. Past teams have given our partners the opportunity to meet with individuals and organizations that they might not normally interact with.
  • Analysis—Teams prepare financial analysis on various business opportunities. The output of these has provided our partners with initial decision metrics, as well as possible partnerships opportunities.
  • Business Model Development—Teams develop business and partnership models for our partners within specific opportunity areas.
  • Teams provide a new and different perspective that our partners might not develop internally.
  • Teams provide an opportunity for training for our partners’ local staff.

Three Phases of BOTFL

Phase 1 is based on the philosophy that complex problems must be approached from multiple angles, and that these must be considered in the unique context of each country. In this phase, we tackle the complex challenges driving each project by considering how different theories and perspectives might inform the particulars of each context. In-class sessions will cover economics, philosophy, political science, law, peace studies, and business perspectives. Students will bring their independent research about the in-country contexts and the projects to bear upon these theories.

The second phase takes place during inter-term. Although much research can be accumulated early, the time in country provides the most opportunities for fact-finding and research. The concept is for a total immersion into a complex situation, at the end of which the BOTFL team will present a tentative recommendation.

The third phase has three parts. The first is the completion of the project. The second is documenting project work that will improve the course for the next BOTFL. Lastly the third involves reflection. What do we think now, given our in-country experiences, about the topics we discussed in class prior to departure? The experience in-country is one that is likely to leave a lasting impression. This is a unique experience that often takes a great deal of time for its full impact to be realized. It is during this third stage that students and faculty have the opportunity to individually and communally digest the experience.

Past Projects

Since 2008, BOTFL teams have worked on nearly thirty such projects in nearly twenty countries including: Bosnia, Lebanon, Kenya, Uganda, Egypt, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Senegal, Lesotho, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, Cambodia, Mindanao in the Philippines, Indonesia, East Timor, and Sri Lanka. By the estimates of one of our partners, thousands of young men now have livelihoods that would not have had opportunities had it not been for our work in the field.

“These are real people. These are real problems.” Erin Wehe (MBA ’18) says the experience in navigating failures along the path to success has proven valuable in her banking career. Read more about Erin’s BOTFL experience in Palestine.

The challenge may be great; the road to travel may be far. Nevertheless, never underestimate the human dignity associated with a good day’s work, particularly for those who have come through conflict.

Course Partners

BOTFL has expanded our partnerships to include not only international NGOs such as Catholic Relief Services, Mercy Corps and World Vision, but also multi-national corporations like Accenture, Newmont Mining, and General Electric. We have also partnered with the US Army Special Operations Command around training and joint problem solving regarding conflict prevention in the field. Multi-national corporations, humanitarian organizations, and the armed forces all have a clear stake in peace and long-term stability.