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IMD students help build prosperity in Bosnia

MBA students discuss investment in Bosnia

MBA students from the Swiss business school, IMD, are in Bosnia this week on a mission to help the war-torn country turn its economy around.

The week-long “Discovery Expedition” – which continues until Saturday – is billed as a learning experience for the 87 international students who hail from 37 different countries.

The aim is to equip what IMD calls “leaders of the 21st Century” with the necessary skills to deal with challenges such as “globalisation, political unrest and war, and a growing divide between rich and poor.”

IMD believes that countries such as Bosnia-Herzegovina are fertile ground for such training.

Shattered by war

MBA project manager, Janet Shaner, said Bosnia-Herzegovina was once one of the most developed and open of the former Eastern Bloc countries.

Once a “first-world” country, the 1991 Balkan war changed this, Shaner told swissinfo.

The war in the Balkans caused production to plummet by up to 80 per cent between 1990 and 1995 and the country is struggling to rebuild its economy.

The task now at hand, is for the “global leaders of the future” to understand how to create a “Balkan Tiger”, in much the same way that Ireland has managed to turn its economy around over the last few years.

Learning the ropes

But MBA officials say that finding ways to increase Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) must begin with an understanding of Bosnian culture and the country’s tumultuous past.

The group’s first appointment upon arrival in Sarajevo on Sunday was with a local politician, where students learnt first-hand about the process of rebuilding a multi-ethnic nation.

“I think this is very important because it is just what students and managers usually lack. They don’t know the culture of the other country and this is why they are not really successful in attracting foreign investment,” said Danica Purg, director of the IEDC Bled School of Management for central and Eastern Europe.

During the course of the visit, the group will also discover the roles religion and culture play in the process of integration.

“This trip will not be so much high-tech as high-touch,” commented Purg, who helped plan the IMD trip to Bosnia.

The topic of integration, Purg adds, is as important to the world of business, acquisitions and mergers as it is to society itself.

Sarajevo String Quartet

Organisers of the visit hope that music will also play a role in spreading the message of courage and hope it once brought to Bosnians during wartime.

As shells rained down on Sarajevo during the war at the start of the 1990s, the Sarajevo String Quartet continued to perform. It held some 200 concerts in bomb shelters beneath the city.

Ten years on, the orchestra will play for the MBA students at a special concert, which tour organisers hope will be an opportunity for the performers to talk about their experiences of a divided country.

The group also plans to visit multinationals such as Coca-Cola that have invested in Bosnia, as well as a range of domestic firms involved in sectors such as travel and tourism, manufacturing, energy and food.

In the area of travel, for example, one aim is to help the government devise a tourism strategy to promote the country to the outside world.

“We found out from the travel agents we talked to [in Switzerland] that nobody is really promoting the country, so we’re trying to devise a unique positioning or selling proposition for Bosnia,” MBA student, Gord Ray told swissinfo.

Discovering opportunities

Ray said one of the key group tasks would be to discover how to turn ventures that are struggling into what IMD describes as “opportunities”.

Corruption, an active black market and new regulatory frameworks which are not yet fully operational are some of the issues students will be exploring during the visit.

Beyond finding ways to help Bosnia overhaul its economy, the main aim of the trip is to be a learning experience for future generations of business students. The prestigious Lausanne-based business school hopes to organise further trips to Bosnia-Herzegovina over the next few years.

by Samantha Tonkin

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR