Visiting MBA students from the
Israel is home to some of the world’s hottest companies like electric car pioneer Better Place and Teva, the largest generic drug manufacturer in the world. What makes the Israeli business heart tick? And what’s the cultural and political driving force behind its entrepreneurs and business leaders? Twenty-six MBA students from Indiana University (IU) came to Israel this month to get the answers.
The 11-day Israel trip was part of their coursework for Kelley International Perspectives (KIP) Israel 2010, at the Kelley School of Business. Global treks as part of the curriculum were initiated about 10 years ago in a student-designed and student-driven program at IU’s Kelley School of Business. Ever since, the prestigious business school, voted a top 15 in America by Newsweek, has offered its students a variety of foreign fieldwork courses.
This year, MBA students took a seven-week course led by professors from both the business faculty and from the university itself. Students had classes on Hebrew language, Israeli government, politics, culture, business and case studies that culminated in a tour of Israeli businesses and cultural hotspots from March 9 to 20.
ISRAEL21c caught up with Jamie Billow, one of the student organizers of this year’s trip, just after the group had visited a Golan Heights winery and was on its way to spend the night at a nearby kibbutz.
From ISCAR to the IDF
Billow says that he and fellow organizers had help from Israel government representatives with contacts and materials, and mentions that the ISRAEL21c website was an invaluable educational tool, providing articles, videos and Twitter updates about Israeli life, technology and culture, without a political bias, that he could show to the students.
“It’s not just a high-tech tour,” says Billow. “The KIP initiative is a program to expose the students to an international setting in the classroom and then in a more hands-on experience.”
Billow was excited to find the first KIP program from the business school to focus on Israel. While most of the students on the trip are not Jewish, Billow is, and had been to Israel before. He liked the fact that the program allows him to network with Israeli companies that are well known in the US.
“Today our tour guide taught us Hebrew songs,” says Billow, recounting with enthusiasm that, “We met with Shai Agassi [from Better Place], an executive at Teva, someone from Solel Solar Power and also someone from ISCAR ISCAR, as well as touring an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) base, and there’s more to come.”
While part of the motivation to sign up for this KIP MBA is the desire to travel, Billow reasons that those who registered for the Israel trip were most likely looking for business contacts in the high-tech scene, and not just a vacation. Other choices included China, Ireland, Egypt or Dubai. “Israel offers something different ,” he remarks.
Not just meeting and greeting
“The students who came to Israel are interested in the history, the religion and in the politics of Israel, and also in companies that operate here. The people have been incredibly impressed with what they’ve seen in terms of technology and infrastructure,” Billow reports.
It’s not just about meeting and greeting, Billow adds. “We have presentations and course work and case studies. It’s not just a walk in the park and the trip is not cheap. “Students invested their own money in this,” he points out, although he helped raise $10,000 to offset the cost and the trip is partially sponsored by the David Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to “educating and inspiring strong voices for Israel.” Additional sponsors included the Israel on Campus Coalition, along with some university funding.
Security and lack of knowledge about Israel made it harder for the program organizers to find willing students he concedes. “Israel has a bigger void to cover than others and there was a bigger breach in getting registrations. People don’t know about it [in the US], but we wanted them to know about it,” Billow explains, adding, “Israel is a special place for me. I wanted to show them that they can relate to it and become aware of Israel besides the black and white pictures with the plumes of smoke that they see on CNN.”
Although he graduates this May, Billow’s aim is to see a KIP MBA coming to Israel every year, and hopes that the university secures the funds to make this possible. “My aim for this program was to educate people about what’s going on politically – to go beyond the business perspective. I wanted people to scratch under the surface of those CNN images because people don’t realize Israel is a culture of opportunity,” declares Billow, concluding that he could see himself working in Israel after he graduates.