Nothing can replace an out-of-comfort zone experience. Several years ago my wife Janis taught a “global environment” course to MBA students from Oregon. A chief objective of the curriculum involved shaking up cultural paradigms. Though a number of the students traveled widely, some had never left the state. It was important to find a place quite different from Oregon. Spanish-speaking countries were relatively near, but many students had taken Spanish in school, so we needed to reach further. The much-appreciated site of choice turned out to be Portuguese-speaking Brazil. From Embraer to favellas the experience resounded.
At one point I was eavesdropping on a conversation between Oregon business students and a young Brazilian professional. The group had just visited a favella outside of Sao Paulo, and, overwhelmed by the usual need to fix something, decided to organize a separate trip later to build a house. The Brazilian kindly, but firmly, responded, “If you build a house, you take jobs away from Brazilians. Come and teach us management instead.” Jaws dropped as this truth sank in. It was a pivotal moment for the students.
This globalism moment impressed me:
- A relationship had been built,
- A symptom mutually identified,
- The North Americans responded in generosity (because they could),
- The Brazilian felt free to challenge them (because they had a relationship), and
- The gringos listened and learned as this friendship deepened.
The postscript is that the students began to explore ideas such as creating community-driven credit unions within the favella, run by residents, to keep the capital circulating within the neighborhood: maybe it will work, maybe it won’t. And maybe there are more indigeneous forms of management that we non-Brazilians should figure out before we presume to teach.
No U.S.-trained MBA student should graduate without an O-O-C-Z experience. Some schools now offer these, but few insist on them. (Thunderbird, in Arizona, still requires a second language as I recall.) Another growing alternative is international B-school partnerships that allow students to move seamlessly through compatible programs in different countries. But these tend to be elite-to-elite exchanges. What if an elite U.S. school paired with an unlikely, yet emerging school in a developing country?
Even more to the point, beware the monocultural faculty. The best solution requires a rich complexity of representative cultures and experiences. How many U.S. schools conscientiously and specifically seek faculty from “the rest”? (post 9/11 visa restrictions are not helping). For U.S.-born faculty a minimum of two years invested outside the country is a good beginning.
Perhaps, if we are to begin to comprehend the “rise of the rest”, we should simply require every wannabe business professor to complete a 2-year, “Business Peace Corps” type commitment as part of their terminal degree.
Probably not likely but fun to consider.