ANN ARBOR—Fourteen Middle Eastern and North African entrepreneurs are at the University of Michigan to learn firsthand how to succeed in their fields, as part of a U.S. Department of State-sponsored program that partners U-M experts with southeastern Michigan community organizations.
“This program is unique in that it not only offers professional development opportunities for the participants, but also cultivates the kind of people-to-people connections that help to dilute stereotypes and lead to better mutual understanding and respect,” said Barbara Peitsch, who directs the program based at the U-M Institute for Social Research. (View photos of the participants on ISR’s Facebook page.)
Participants, who hail from Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Morocco, the Palestinian Territories and Tunisia, are primarily small business owners, including web and app designers, and representatives of nongovernmental organizations and government agencies involved in supporting small business startups.
“Being here is a whole new experience for me,” said Nada Heggy, a program participant from Egypt who runs a nonprofit aimed at bridging the gap for young graduates between college and the job market. “It’s my first time in the U.S. I’ve been exposed to different cultures, different people, different mindsets. I’m trying to gain more ideas in different fields, especially in entrepreneurship, and how to grow my business better back in Egypt.”
As part of the program, participants attend strategy and coaching sessions with U-M marketing, communications and entrepreneurship experts, and connect with representatives of community organizations, including the Arab American Women’s Business Council, the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, Menlo Innovations, Google and Ann Arbor SPARK.
After spending three weeks in Michigan, the group will travel to Washington, D.C., to participate in the State Department’s Professional Fellows Congress to network with other young leaders in their fields and refine the plans they will implement when they return home.
To follow up on the connections established here, Peitsch will bring two groups of U.S. hosts to the Middle East and North Africa starting in January 2013 for two-week “reverse exchanges” that will include workshops, organizational visits and onsite consulting.
The Institute for Social Research is one of 17 U.S.-based nonprofits and universities that are hosting foreign professionals from over 50 countries and territories.
For more information about the ISR program, click here.
By Diane Swanbrow