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Good work, no pay

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Kathleen Parker
February 6, 2009
— So many MBAs, so few jobs.

Despite daily reports of laid-off executives, all is not dark—if you’re the patient sort of investor.


There is, in fact, a lot of work for MBAs. It just doesn’t pay very well. Actually, it doesn’t pay at all, but that’s a minor detail in the grand scheme. Job requirements are as follows: professional business experience, valid passport, commitment to volunteerism, adventurous spirit, flexibility and … a sense of humor.


If you’re thinking you might find yourself in some remote hollow of, say, South Sudan or Kyrgyzstan, you might be right. But you’d be helping save the world, so hang tight.


At this moment, volunteer MBAs are deployed in 15 countries, putting their skills to work helping small and medium-sized businesses get up and running. They’re all part of the MBA Enterprise Corps, a division of the Citizens Development Corps (CDC), a quietly efficient operation begun 19 years ago by the first President George Bush.


The Berlin Wall had come down, European communism was dead, and Americans wanted to help. So many were calling the White House offering their services that Bush 41 decided to create a mechanism for funneling all that helpful American energy. Voila: The CDC was born.


What began as a vehicle for volunteers aimed at economic development has evolved into a highly successful economic development entity that uses volunteers.


The CDC has had programs in 50 countries on four continents, from Angola to Ukraine. With an annual budget of $6 million and a database of 7,500 volunteers, the CDC trains local businessmen and women and then brokers employment and consulting contracts between locals and multinational corporations.


It’s one of those rare win-win-win arrangements: Corporations get local contracts that are faster and less costly than outside services would be; locals get training and jobs; friendships and mutual respect build bridges across cultures and nations.


A round of applause would be appropriate here.


Or, how about a Nobel Peace Prize to the United States for helping achieve the success story that is Central Europe? That’s the modest proposal of Michael Levett, president and CEO of the citizen corps and an unlikely champion of anyone with the surname Bush.


A self-described liberal Democrat, Levett came to the CDC in 1994, intending to stay for just one year. Sitting in his K Street office today, he is surrounded by movie posters—“Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Return of the Jedi” and “Dune”—from an earlier incarnation as vice president of Lucasfilm and Dino DeLaurentiis Corp. He sports a beard he grew to help blend in while in Baghdad and doesn’t mind that he can pass for a local when work takes him to some of the world’s dicier neighborhoods.


Levett says his longevity on the job is owing to one thing: Gratifying work. The allure of helping build democracies and growing free markets during a time of historic transformation can’t be overrated.


Most who enter the MBA Enterprise Corps don’t just stumble upon it, but choose the volunteer path early in their studies as a way to gain experience and build a resume. Even so, getting selected isn’t easy. Vetting includes an assessment of motivation, commitment and the ability to adapt to challenging living and business environments. Previous volunteers have included Goldman Sachs analysts in South Sudan, Bank of America employees in Ghana, and McKinsey consultants in India.


A list of accomplishments would be too long for this space, but herewith a few highlights:


—IBM, with 400,000 employees worldwide, recently selected the CDC to implement a volunteer program.


—South Sudan tapped three MBAs deployed there to develop that area’s first census.


—MBAs from the CDC provided training to the Bank of China.


—In Angola, a CDC-trained company captured a $35 million contract with a multinational oil company.


I hear ya. What about us? Indeed.


As our government bails out banks, insurance companies and car manufacturers—while the proposed stimulus package promises a trillion-plus more debt—it’s hard to applaud outsourcing our talents to countries that in some cases have already consumed our jobs.


That is the short view.


The longer view suggests that our own economic recovery depends in part on the financial success of emerging nations. While we await our own bounce, it can’t hurt to help others. It also might not hurt to send some of those MBAs to aid our own ailing towns and cities.


Detroit, anyone? Applicants must be flexible. Sense of humor absolutely necessary.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. Her e-mail address is kparker@kparker.com.

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