(Editor’s note: This story and video on the Ariane de Rothschild Fellows Program were originally published on Sept. 3, 2009. We are republishing due to new interest in the program, which is now in its second year.)
If political solutions can’t solve the historical tensions between Muslim and Jewish communities, perhaps good business practices can.
Participants talk about the history and goals of the Ariane de Rothschild Fellows Program. (6:18)
That was the philosophy behind a new entrepreneurial program held here on the Morningside campus in July, designed to spark just such a cross-cultural conversation. It featured innovative, practical tactics—such as marketing development and venture capital investing—conceived outside of political and religious boxes.
For two weeks in July, 28 fellows—nearly all Jewish and Muslim—met on the Morningside campus, with business ideas they had developed to help bridge cultural divides. “The Ariane de Rothschild Fellows Program: Dialogue and Social Entrepreneurship,” cosponsored by Columbia Business School and Cambridge University, helped them turn those ideas into business plans they could implement upon their return home. The program was designed and funded by the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation.
Fellows were selected from a pool of nearly 200 for their commitment and ability to generate sustainable social and intercultural impact. They came from France, the United Kingdom and the United States and represented the private sector and nonprofit industry.
“We had people from charities trying to increase their enterprising elements, and we had people from businesses trying to increase their social impact and charitable work,” said fellow Athol Hallé, chief executive officer of Groundswell, a London-based enterprise mobilizing homeless people throughout the United Kingdom. “And in amongst all this mix has been incredible creativity and an incredibly positive vision of the way things can be different in the future.”
The program combined business training, offered by Columbia business professors, and humanities-based tutorials and lectures offered by Cambridge faculty and faculty members from Columbia’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
Bruce Kogut, the Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Professor of Leadership and Ethics at Columbia and co-director of the program, credits the Rothschild family for changing the tenor of the discussion. “It was a radical innovation on their part to move the dialogue somewhere else,” he said. “Some people believe dialogue should just be between an imam and rabbi, or a priest and rabbi. So when they moved the dialogue out to social entrepreneurship—to a business school—people said, ‘This is kind of wild.’ ”
Wild, but effective. “I was really impressed with the idea of having the humanities and the business school inform each other—you don’t really think that a person getting their M.B.A. is really concerned with religious traditions,” said fellow Sahar Ullah, from Davie, Fla. Ullah is the writer of The Hijabi Monologues, a takeoff of The Vagina Monologues, which presents the true stories of Muslim-American women and their experiences wearing traditional Muslim dress.
Though the focus of the program was social entrepreneurship, the conversations led to such topics as education, environment, the arts and health care. The fellows enjoyed New York's diversity, visiting a synagogue, a mosque and a Kosher restaurant. The organizers plan to repeat the program in the future.
“The unique combination of intercultural dialogue and entrepreneurship is something that I’ve come to value,” said Sam Adelsberg, cofounder of LendforPeace.org, a New York-based Web company that allows individuals to make loans to vetted and deserving entrepreneurs in the West Bank in the context of peace.
“And the program brought together an amazing network of leaders from the Jewish and Muslim global community.”
—by John H. Tucker
(July 2010 Update: For the second consecutive summer, Columbia Business School has partnered with the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation to sponsor fellowships for two dozen Muslim and Jewish social entrepreneurs from the United States, United Kingdom and France. With an emphasis on bridging cultural divides, the fellowships help individuals hone their entrepreneurial skills and devise business strategies that address global socioeconomic problems.
According to Kogut, a goal of this year’s program is to give fellows the opportunity to work on personal projects that they can continue to develop once they return to their home countries. Case studies written by Columbia Business School faculty are one way fellows will learn about best practices and overcoming challenges. Professor Gita Johar, for example, devised a case study about an ambulance service in Mumbai, India that uses two-tier pricing to subsidize ambulance service for the poor. Fellows will also learn how to create a revenue plan that is critiqued in groups and presented to a board consisting of experienced business women and men.)