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October 30, 2009

Teaching for a Small Business Sector

Catherine New
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Students at the University of Dar Es Salaam listen to a lecture.

At last night’s Community Forum, Dean Glenn Hubbard, professors Bill Duggan and Gita Johar, and Eric Tienou ’03 of Burkina Faso discussed economic development in Africa. Hubbard and Duggan’s recently published book The Aid Trap (see blog post) advocates for aid investment directly into the small business sector rather than charitable aid through NGOs. Hubbard, who also spoke last week at the “Peace Through Reconstruction” conference, has said that a Marshall Plan-like program is not only a moral and economic imperative, but also good foreign policy for the United States. (Watch a video of his presentation.)

One example of how the development of the small business sector is taking place is emerging through the School’s partnership with the University of Dar Es Salaam (UDBS) in Tanzania, Africa. The partnership is made possible through Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Women program.

Several faculty members, including Murray Low, Eric Abrahamson and Gita Johar, spent last summer working in Tanzania to teach students and UDBS faculty members. The goal of their work was twofold: to prepare local students to earn a cobranded advanced certificate in entrepreneurship and business management, and to facilitate UDBS faculty members in learning interactive case method teaching. The School is also helping to establish a PhD program at the African university.

“The group of students was incredibly diverse,” Johar said about her experience teaching. “We had chicken farmers and dried fruit distributors to engineers, consultants and a range of microfinance entrepreneurs.” This summer completed the first of a five-year teaching exchange.

While many of the challenges for small business owners in Tanzania are familiar — management, staff turnover and competition — the biggest challenge, said Johar, is access to capital. “Friends and family are the bank,” she says, noting that bank loans are virtually nonexistent. Nonetheless, students were very enthusiastic about the material.

“We were thrilled,” she says. “They were very hungry to learn and apply the teaching to their ventures.”