About Business on the Frontlines

Through the Business on the Frontlines course, Notre Dame MBA students have the opportunity to study a different kind of text than anything written in a book: real life in countries trying to rebuild their economies after a war or violent conflict. The aim is to examine the role of business as these countries attempt to restart their economic growth in order to create the wealth needed to pull their populations out of poverty and stabilize society.

The course recently was selected by Forbes.com 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.”

Business on the Frontlines is a signature course offered by the Mendoza College of Business. First offered in spring 2009, the course 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.

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. During the January 2009 trip to Bosnia, the team experienced first-hand 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.

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.