The question was, if you were president of Egypt, what's the first thing you would do?
Onsi Georgious, a “chief of party” or program leader for Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in Egypt, thought for a moment.
“My first decision would be to close the universities for five years,” he said.
It was a sunny Monday morning in early March, and Georgious was in a van crawling back to the CRS Cairo office through the city’s perpetual, but surprisingly civil, traffic. Here, a honking horn only occasionally translates to, “Get out of my way, you idiot.” More often, it’s a quick pair of toots signaling something along the lines of, “Just a heads-up, I’m seeing a good six feet of space between you and the car on your left and thinking what a waste, extra lane, so I’m just going to squeeze through … here … and … done.” This is happening literally every second.
Six members of Mendoza College’s unique Business on the Frontlines course shared the vehicle with Georgious that morning. They were people one might expect to object to any suggestion of shutting down universities, but no one uttered a word. Maybe they couldn’t hear him over the traffic. More likely, after all he’d said already, they could see the logic of the idea.
The Notre Dame delegation consisted of four graduating MBA students—Cory Engwicht, Rob Morris, Meghan O’Neil and Joe Sweeney (’06)—one third-year Notre Dame Law School student, Manasi Raveendran, and the group’s faculty adviser, Joe Queenan, a serial entrepreneur and client-services director at Notre Dame’s Innovation Park business incubator in South Bend. They’d come to investigate business conditions in Egypt and suggest possible job-creation strategies for CRS, the international humanitarian agency of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
That’s how Business on the Frontlines, a graduate-level course, works. Students start out by learning about development economics, politics in the developing world, and how businesses can help or hinder recovery in societies that have been through violent conflicts.
At the midway point of the course, they hit the road in teams to investigate conditions on the ground. For two weeks, they interview government officials, factory managers, bankers, employees of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), politicians, farmers—anyone who can help them understand the dynamics of the situation.
The meetings are typically arranged by the local office of Catholic Relief Services. Viva Bartkus, course instructor and Mendoza associate professor of management, is on the CRS board, and former Mendoza College Dean Carolyn Woo became the organization’s president and CEO in January. The two developed the course together in 2008-09.