Our Power to Influence

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Monday, November 1, 2021
Rangina Hamidi
Professor of Practice, Thunderbird School of Global Management
Sanjeev Khagram
Director General and Dean, Thunderbird School of Global Management
Rangina Hamidi stands with a group of girls in Afghanistan. Courtesy: Thunderbird School of Global Management.
Schools of management have a critical role to play in supporting communities across the globe that are facing political turmoil.

As refugees ourselves—Rangina emigrated to the U.S. from Afghanistan in 2021 and Sanjeev from Uganda in 1973—we deeply understand the challenges and uncertainties that so many of our fellow humans face today. We also know firsthand how support from institutions such as schools of management can make a significant difference, not only in the lives of refugees who leave their home countries, but also in the lives of those who remain.

Since its inception in 1946, Thunderbird School of Global Management in Phoenix has been guided by the belief that educating global leaders is critical to creating sustainable and inclusive prosperity and promoting peace worldwide. At the same time, we recognize that many people around the world lack access to formal leadership and management education—largely because the general prosperity that grew from previous industrial revolutions and globalization has been neither sustainable nor inclusive.

Yet there is tremendous opportunity to support people from disadvantaged communities, to help them become entrepreneurs, business managers, government officials, civil society leaders, philanthropists, and educators. That is why management schools must do all they can to teach not only the educated, but also people without access to education, work experience, and other opportunities that many of us take for granted. Such efforts will be key to empowering disenfranchised communities worldwide—and to making the world a better place.

The Role of Management Schools in Transforming Communities

Enabling people to change their own circumstances is what leads to lasting political, social, and economic transformation. Of course, a nation’s governmental institutions, as well as its military, play important roles in this process. But in any country, true change also requires mobilization from individuals, enterprises, and nongovernmental organizations.

Schools of management can use their strengths to give individuals the skills, knowledge, resources, experiences, and networks not only to create their own futures, but also to advance progress in their communities and improve the world around them. We believe that schools of management can achieve these goals in three ways:

1. By redesigning our curricula. Our course content must accommodate the world’s new complexities, accounting for evolving opportunities and capabilities as well as turmoil and instability within and across societies. In our courses and programs, we must address issues such as sustainability, ethics, disruptive technological change, and diversity and inclusion.

Our curricula must be expanded in ways that enable students to build lifelong ethical and moral foundations to guide their professional and personal conduct. Programs should also nurture innovation, entrepreneurship, creativity, and agility. As the world continues to evolve, we must help students develop both hard skills and soft skills, placing an increased emphasis on compassion, empathy, and cross-cultural understanding and communication.

2. By diversifying our co-curricular and extracurricular opportunities. Management students must have opportunities to explore and understand how their professional lives will be affected by local, national, and global dynamics. They should be offered opportunities to engage with leaders across sectors and cultures, as well as to practice their skills outside the classroom.

Schools of management can achieve these objectives by organizing international field trips and networking opportunities, as well as facilitating internship opportunities in challenging environments to give students firsthand experience solving complex issues. Schools can invite political and economic leaders to share their experiences, lessons learned, and life journeys with students.

3. By expanding our focus. Geopolitics is becoming ever more complex and dynamic, and we know that complex challenges require collaborative solutions. For these reasons, management schools need to expand their focus beyond the private sector to include government and civil society, advancing real-world solutions through multistakeholder partnerships.

Management schools need to expand their focus beyond the private sector to include government and civil society, advancing real-world solutions through multistakeholder partnerships.

At Thunderbird, our partnerships are integral to solving global challenges. For instance, the Global Carbon Removal Partnership Task Force harnesses the collective capacities, resources, and creativity of multiple stakeholders. Members of the task force work across public, private, civic, and academic sectors to engender bold action on climate change. Another example is the Phoenix Global Rising Initiative, which convenes local civic, governmental, commercial, and educational institutions to make Phoenix a more connected, inclusive, technological, entrepreneurial, and sustainable community.

As we move further into the Fourth Industrial Revolution, it is more important than ever that our management schools prepare global leaders who will maximize the benefits of this new era and bring the world together, rather than cause division and discord. These leaders must be able—and willing—to drive sustainable and inclusive prosperity worldwide.

Empowering the Disenfranchised—Especially Women

We know that one of the best ways to stabilize a country’s political climate and drive prosperity is to educate women. That is especially true in Afghanistan. In near-constant conflict for more than 50 years, Afghanistan is home to many disenfranchised people—especially women and girls. That’s why, in 2005, former U.S. ambassador and Air Force Secretary Barbara Barrett enlisted Thunderbird’s help to create Project Artemis.

Project Artemis involved an intensive two-week training program during which 15 to 20 Afghan women entrepreneurs came to Thunderbird’s campus in Phoenix to learn important business skills, while sharing their unique perspectives and values. Faculty taught workshops on different topics while student and alumni volunteers supported and mentored participants, both in-person and remotely. Project Artemis had six cohorts of participants between 2005 and 2016, training a total of 86 women who went on to create 5,000 jobs and mentor more than 20,000 other women in Afghanistan.

Prior to the resurgence of the Taliban, there were countless powerful stories of Project Artemis graduates who used what they learned in the program to make lasting change in their communities. One woman wanted to expand her small maternity clinic in the western region of Herat. After completing Project Artemis, she grew her clinic by 33 percent with the help of her mentor; it now has a 15-bed maternity ward with trained nursing staff and modern medical equipment.

Another woman established her community’s first private school, which uses innovative methods and a current curriculum to offer high-quality education to both girls and boys. Before the current crisis, the school had more than 70 students, and the founder was planning a second new building to contain additional classrooms and laboratories for science and technical studies.

One Firsthand Account

As one of the co-authors of this article, I, Rangina, experienced the impact of Project Artemis firsthand when I went through the training myself. I participated in the program because I believe deeply that the best way to inspire social change is to create socially responsible and aware businesses. In 2008, Project Artemis gave me the confidence and skills to start Kandahar Treasure, a social enterprise that employs women to create handmade embroidered textiles and enables them to lift their families out of poverty. Through this business, I have witnessed the employment and empowerment of thousands of women.

Project Artemis has not run for several years—in part due to a general improvement in opportunities for women entrepreneurs in Afghanistan. Sadly, the need that created Project Artemis in the first place is back again. For the last 20 years, Afghan women have been able to work, go to school, choose what they want to wear, and decide whom they want to marry. But the Afghan government’s fall to the Taliban has stalled much of the progress made by Project Artemis graduates.

Since the Taliban took over the country several months ago, Afghan women are once again at risk of losing the freedoms they had gained. Women and girls are fearful of going to work or school or otherwise leaving their homes without a male escort. They do not know if they will face punishment under the new Taliban regime.

I am incredibly pained by the disenfranchisement that Afghans, primarily women and girls, are facing right now. With the help of friends and family in Afghanistan, I have been working with local authorities—members of the Taliban regime—to get permission for Kandahar Treasure employees to go back to work, but it is unknown when they will feel safe enough to do so.

We now have access to technology that can help us deliver remote learning and operate training programs to help Afghan women even if they can’t leave the country—and even if they aren’t allowed inside a classroom.

Meanwhile, Thunderbird has been working tirelessly to move hundreds of students, alumni, staff, and their families out of the country if they so desire. We then are providing them with employment, educational opportunities, and other resources to help them through the difficulties they face.

With the help of Thunderbird, my connections from Project Artemis, and other friends and colleagues, my family and I were fortunate enough to leave Afghanistan. In August, I became a refugee in the U.S. for the second time. (The first time was in the early 1990s, when my family and I fled the country during the first reign of the Taliban.)

This time, upon our arrival in the United States, Thunderbird offered me a position as professor of practice. Through my position at Thunderbird, I will have access to resources that will enable me to continue to help communities in Afghanistan.

Our Responsibility to Educate Responsible Leaders

Both of us believe that education has the power to open people’s minds, develop new leaders, and make significant changes in the world. As educators, we all have a responsibility to educate effective leaders who also will be good, broad-minded citizens.

The difference between the 1990s, when the Taliban was first in power, and now is that we have access to technology that can help us deliver remote learning and operate training programs to help Afghan women even if they can’t leave the country—and even if they aren’t allowed inside a classroom. We are currently exploring how we can leverage our expertise in distance learning to increase Afghan women’s access to education.

Beyond Project Artemis Afghanistan, Thunderbird runs a similar program called Project Artemis Pakistan, and the school has other projects around the world that are enabling marginalized people to create more hopeful futures. Our SHARE Fellowship, for example, is a full-tuition scholarship and mentorship program available to Master of Global Management students from emerging and developing countries.

The school also is involved with WeAmericas, Dreamcatcher, Dreambuilder, Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women, and Women Entrepreneurs: Aspire, Activate and Accelerate. By the end of 2021, Thunderbird will have educated 200,000 women in 210 countries.

Business, if directed toward having positive impact, is a key part of the solution to most of the world’s problems. Schools of management have the power to influence current and future leaders at every level, creating and maintaining socially responsible and aware enterprises. We know that it is through empowering people living in the most disadvantaged communities that we can make the world more sustainable, equitable, prosperous, and peaceful for all.

Hamidi is the former Minister of Education for Afghanistan.

Rangina Hamidi
Professor of Practice, Thunderbird School of Global Management
Sanjeev Khagram
Director General and Dean, Thunderbird School of Global Management
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