Mendoza School of Business

Notre Dame Graduate Students Safe in the Philippines

Published: March 11, 2011 / Author: Carol Elliott

One of the aims of the Business on the Frontlines course at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business is to send MBA students to countries where war or conflict has interrupted people’s lives in order to study how business can help societies rebuild.

Sometimes, they’ve gotten a first-hand experience out of it.

A team of Notre Dame MBA students and a Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies Masters student currently are in the Philippines, about 2,000 miles from Japan where a massive 8.9 magnitude quake hit Friday, triggering tsunami warnings across the Pacific Ocean.

Team members posted a message on their Business on the Frontlines 2011 blog Friday morning that they were safely inland:

Team Philippines is safe in Sultaan Kudarat which is in the middle of Mindanao, safe from the shorelines of Gen San. We were meeting with the CRS peace and recon team and Par Johns when news broke of the earthquake in Japan. The team prayers go to the people of Japan and have been monitoring the tsunami and praying for the islands in the Pacific.

We enjoyed a night together as a team and preparing for a full weekend of meeting with groups the peace and recon team works with and The Archbishop Capalla for mass on Sunday.

God bless,
Aaron, Andy, Ben, Ross, Bridget, and Michelle.

The students on the team are Andrew Dermanoski, Ross Fleck, Bridget Higgins, Michelle Mellard, Aaron Britton and Ben Bernard. Part of their goal while in the Philippines is to study the coffee market and understand the economic and environmental challenges faced by the farmers and others in the production and distribution chain.

Two additional Business on the Frontlines teams traveled to Uganda and Rwanda. This year, the 15 MBA students were joined by three graduate students from the Notre Dame Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies for the trips as well.

This isn’t the first time that Frontlines students have witnessed “conflict” first-hand during their visits. During the January 2009 trip to Bosnia, the team faced the uncertain conditions often endured by businesses and citizens when a dispute with Russia resulted in the shut-down of the country’s natural gas supply and temperatures plunged below zero. That same year, another group arrived in Lebanon just as a border dispute with Israel broke out.

In all cases, students were safe during their stays.

Business on the Frontlines, a signature Notre Dame course first taught in spring 2009, consists of two parts: a classroom segment where students study developmental economies and topics related to peace-through-commerce efforts; and a week- to 10-day field visit to explore in detail the activities and impact of local and international business in post-war reconstruction societies.

During the onsite visits, students travel in teams to their designated country or region, meeting with business and civic leaders, shop owners and ordinary citizens to learn first-hand about the challenges faced in restarting their economies. Previous destinations have included Bosnia, Lebanon, Kenya and Uganda.

Some of the issues they’ve studied involve rebuilding infrastructure, encouraging tourism to support the economy, the impact of corruption or factional divisiveness on economic development, and environmental concerns. Findings and observations from the students have been presented to groups working within the countries, including Catholic Relief Services, which supports dozens of nonprofit public works and entrepreneurial efforts in some of the world’s most devastated lands.

The course was selected by in 2010 as one of the “Ten Most Innovative Business School Classes.”

“Business on the Front Lines is actually a journey of discovery,” said Viva O. Bartkus, associate management professor at the Mendoza College of Business, who teaches the course. “There isn’t actually that many books written on what has been the impact in business in post-conflict societies. This course really does require time on the ground spent with business, civic and religious leaders to try to begin to understand what has been the role of business in specific countries.”


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