Published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, July 25, 2016
“Can we all get along?” – Rodney King
Dallas, Orlando, Blacksburg, Newtown, Killeen, San Ysidro, San Bernardino – and unfortunately, etc. When does it stop and who is going to stop it?
And ironically, it seems that entrepreneurship can and will play a role in the solution. Meet Ronald J. Bee, managing director of the Hansen Summer Institute of Leadership and International Cooperation at the University of San Diego. The Hansen institute is all about conflict resolution and social entrepreneurship. Its mission says that the key to a peaceful future in a war zone depends on building a strong economy. “Politicians need to think about the economy, and economists need to think about politics,” says Bee.
Bee runs a three-week fellowship, started in 2007, funded by Fred J. Hansen. Hansen himself was an immigrant entrepreneur who made his fortune in avocados, and his core belief was to support and encourage entrepreneurs in conflict-torn regions like Morocco, Rwanda, Uganda and Nepal to come to America and share knowledge and stories with their peers, in an effort to increase a pool of young, future leaders committed to international cooperation.
We talked with the two associate coordinators – Hadeer Basheer, 25, of Iraq and a Hansen fellow in 2015, and Shelly Korenboim, 26, of Israel and a fellow in 2014.
The 25 fellows in this year’s program come from 21 countries, including Armenia, India, Egypt and Pakistan. The participants study design thinking, decision-making, social entrepreneurship, presentation skills and negotiation while also learning about the principles and practice of U.S. government and the American presidency.
“Yesterday at the design-thinking session, we talked about what we like about giving and receiving gifts. You have to figure out what the other person needs and to do that, you come up with important insights,” said Korenboim. “Maybe I will be able to use some of these techniques to better understand what the Palestinians need.”
(Imagine, trying to meet other people’s needs – not a revolutionary idea by any stretch, but one that needs to be reinforced.)
When Basheer applied to the program, he was an undergraduate student studying engineering at the American University of Iraq-Sulaimaneah. As a member of the Yazidi religion, a minority in Iraq, he has experienced war and conflict from the time he was born during the Iraq-Kuwait war in 1991 up to today. “A real genocide is happening to us now,” he said. “Six hundred thousand people are displaced, kicked out of their houses, and I am one of them.” He said most of his family now lives in Europe.
His goal is to return to Iraq and start something similar to Hansen. From his experience he said he now has hope. “I learned how effective it is to have people from different countries coming together. I saw roommates who were from countries that were in conflict become friends,” he said.
When Korenboim applied to the program, her career goal was to enter the Israeli foreign service. Now she has decided that she doesn’t want to be a diplomat. Instead, she wants to make policy. “In Israel, wherever you go, you have to show your ID or your badge, so you spend a lot of time standing in lines, which is frustrating. I want to figure out ways to do things better.”
A key part of the Hansen Institute is developing a social enterprise with a team – you know, working together. Basheer’s team developed a concept for a recycling project in Tunisia because the country has a big problem with plastic pollution. “We focused on how to collect the plastic bottles and came up with the idea of using primary grade students. We made it into a game and whoever collects the most bottles gets to play in a special soccer tournament.” The winning team was awarded $2,000 in prize money. Other projects have included starting a women’s club in Liberia to make soap and a chicken farm operated by widows and single mothers in Malawi.
“You have to be passionate to survive the ups and downs of entrepreneurship. You learn even if you fail,” Bee said.
Neil’s note: It is sad in some way that given the list of cities at the beginning of this column, maybe America needs the skills from the Hansen Institute more than the rest of the world.