By Rev. Robert Dowd
When you combine private-sector expertise with top-notch education, future leaders enter the workforce with a foundation of unmatched strength and potential. As a leading Catholic research university, the University of Notre Dame works with a variety of partners, including corporations such as IBM, to support young people in their efforts to develop their leadership potential and the skills needed to contribute positively to the flourishing of their societies.
Recently, I have had the privilege of working on the Leadership Education and Development (or LEAD) program. This innovative pilot program brings together MBA students from East Africa with Notre Dame Faculty and students and business experts from IBM. The program aims to help nurture the business leaders of the future through intense academic training and exposure to real-world business challenges. This program embodies Notre Dame’s commitment to developing the next generation of business leaders, technicians, scientists and social scientists and highlights the important role corporations can play in skill development.
As part of the program, six of East Africa’s top MBA students journeyed to South Bend to undertake a portion of their studies within our community. In a vibrant, successful intellectual interchange, they have taken classes alongside Notre Dame’s own MBA students and absorbed the real-life experiences of some of IBM’s most accomplished leaders.
A campus-wide collaboration, the LEAD program was kick started by the Ford Family Program in Human Development Studies and Solidarity at the Kellogg Institute for International Studies, the Mendoza College of Business, and the Engineering, Science, Technology and Entrepreneurship Masters (ESTEEM) Program, and IBM.
The curriculum, taught jointly by our business school faculty and IBM executives, combines a strong academic foundation with international business perspective. Not only have these future leaders gained insight into conducting business across borders, but they also equipped themselves to return home with skills for careers of which they, Notre Dame, their home universities, and future employers can be proud.
Hailing from Uganda and Kenya, the six LEAD students represent the next generation of Africa’s leaders, a young and highly capable group. These young people want to be problem solvers and job creators. They want to build accountable and responsive institutions in the private and public sector. Through our private-sector partnership with IBM, we hope to help them reach their goals of bringing about positive change in their societies.
What have they told us about the LEAD experience? Gaining access to the inner workings of a global enterprise was invaluable. Learning from IBM executives who have built solid businesses in growth markets, some in their own countries, they dove down into the nitty gritty of leadership, skills, technologies, processes and management.
As any executive can attest, just as important as business acumen is the ability to build a wide net of relationships, augmenting one’s career and opening undiscovered doors. Our LEAD program has helped both African and American students form solid friendships outside of the classroom, sure to be continued for years.
As a result of this program, our current business school students gleaned a much more realistic picture of business outside of the U.S. As many of our graduates head into international ventures, we’ll see this enrichment well into the future. In addition, all of our students, whether from Africa, the U.S., or elsewhere, have had the rare opportunity to communicate across continents and cultures.
“We’ve had almost too many dinner invitations!” one student told us. Whether cheering at a Notre Dame football game (during its undefeated season!), volunteering at a tailgate concession stand, or sharing Thanksgiving dinner, the cross-cultural connections on both sides will not be forgotten.
Stay tuned for what the future holds for these promising achievers as they return to their home countries and put their skills to work. We know their success in Africa will exceed even the profound impact they made on us.
Rev. Robert Dowd, CSC is a Notre Dame political scientist who researches religion, development, and political culture in Africa. He is also the director of the Ford Family Program in Human Development Studies and Solidarity, part of Notre Dame’s Kellogg Institute for International Studies.