Ross Launches ‘Virtual Exchange’

University of Michigan students will take part in a new “virtual exchange program” with students from across North Africa

Undergraduate students at the University of Michigan will address social entrepreneurship challenges from opposite sides of the world in a new virtual exchange program. The MENA-Michigan Initiative for Global Action Through Entrepreneurship (M2GATE) will give students the opportunity to collaborate with students from Egypt, Libya, Morocco, and Tunisia while competing in a social entrepreneurship challenge.

The program is being launched through the William Davidson Institute (WDI), a nonprofit education and research organization at the Ross School of Business whose stated mission is to provide solutions to low- and middle-income countries. Students from a variety of disciplines, including engineering, business, and healthcare, are being encouraged to apply by the December 1 deadline.

The Michigan students and the other countries will team up to identify a social problem in one of the international locations — from solving a health or sustainability problem to offering a means whereby people can get training to start a business that locals can run. Teams will be expected to come up with scalable solutions and from there work to create a solution and a pitch video.

‘BIRD’S-EYE VIEW OF CHALLENGES IN OTHER COUNTRIES’

The M2GATE teams will be split up in three cohorts over three separate eight-week periods, according to a WDI news release. The winning team from each cohort will travel to Ann Arbor to meet each other and participate in joint activities such as meeting with professors, investors, incubators, and startups in Ann Arbor and Detroit.

“The close collaboration and getting a bird’s-eye view of challenges in other countries is hugely valuable for U-M students,” says Amy Gillett, vice president of the William Davidson Institute’s Education Initiative. “It’s great as an eye-opener, for networking, and as an international experience.”

Gillett notes that the program is structured as a virtual exchange, an approach that is not only useful for learning new skills but also relevant in a world where many corporations use virtual teams.

BRINGING TOGETHER ‘A RICH COLLECTIVE OF STUDENTS’

Additionally, the teams will complete online learning modules that will give them the skills needed to work toward their goal of creating a scalable product or service as a solution to the problem they have identified.

The program is run by the Stevens Initiative, “an international effort to build global competence and career readiness skills for young people in the United States, the Middle East, and North Africa” and funded by public and private donors, including the U.S. Department of State and the Bezos Family Foundation. WDI was one of 13 organizations selected by the Stevens Initiative to participate in the program. The Initiative, housed in The Aspen Institute, has a stated mission to foster leadership, ideas, and action within others; it is named for Ambassador Chris Stevens, who was killed by violent extremists in Libya in September 2012.

“We want to bring together a rich collective of students and have them identify issues in a wide range of areas. This could span from health issues to unemployment to dealing with waste to more,” Gillett says.

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