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ND students find businesses thriving in former war zones

by Dave Newbart, Staff Reporter
Publication: Chicago Sun Times

January 21, 2009


With the economy in tatters here and in much of the world, it might seem like a stretch to go to war-torn places like Bosnia and Lebanon looking for business opportunities.

But that’s what students from the University of Notre Dame are doing. They recently traveled as part of an unusual course — “Business on the Front Lines” — that’s being offered for the first time this year.

Viva Bartkus, an associate professor of business management, said by e-mail from Lebanon that she started the course to “explore the role of business in rebuilding war-torn societies.” The students have met with business, labor, civic and other leaders to determine what sectors “may benefit from more business,” she said.

Keith Flatley, 30, an MBA student from Chicago, said his trip to Bosnia opened his eyes to distant parts of the globe. “Most of the business focus is on China or India, but there is great opportunity for countries like Bosnia,’’ he said from Sarajevo before returning to the United States last week.

Despite the government bureaucracy left over from when Bosnia was under Soviet rule, that hasn’t stopped many from thriving, Flatley said

“The businesses here succeed despite the government,’’ said Flatley, a former Army Ranger who later worked at CDW downtown. “The people are very motivated and talented.’’

Lebanon’s business community is “incredibly resilient,’’ Bartkus said, and has learned to cope even during war.

In Bosnia, the students stayed close to the former front lines in Sarajevo, where many buildings are still pockmarked from artillery fire. While much of the infrastructure has been repaired, bomb craters have been filled with red concrete as a reminder of the impact of war.

While the students visited, Russia cut off natural gas to Bosnia, leaving students and residents to sleep in temperatures as low as 10 below zero. Electric heaters doubled in price to $200 and sold out, students said. Even an “eternal flame’’ honoring the victims of World War II went out.

Despite the obstacles, Flatley said he was impressed. “The people of Sarajevo have an incredible will to survive and work through adversity,’’ he said.

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