Quality Education - Creating educational systems to support entrepreneurial activities

Your appointment to Babson in 2013 was rather controversial albeit historic. How do you feel you have proven the naysayers wrong since then?

While some people may have initially struggled with the idea of a politician taking the reins as president of Babson College, the results that we have achieved in the last three years speak for themselves. I am very pleased that, by working together with Babson’s leadership, faculty, staff, students, alumni and parents, the College’s profile and standing have been elevated, our financial position strengthened and our global opportunities expanded. I am excited to lead the College to its Centennial in 2019, and I know that Babson will fulfill its mission to educate  entrepreneurial leaders who create great economic and social value globally.

 

One of the main tasks I was given when I stepped into my role as president was to raise Babson’s profile globally and strengthen our connections with international parents and alumni. I’ve done a lot of travelling to meet with our fantastic alumni associations, and the UAE branch is one that really stands out. They distinguish themselves by being very active and their association attracts people all the way from all over the region, such as Oman, Bahrain, and Kuwait.

 

So when I was thinking about where I wanted to host our 2016 Babson Connect: Worldwide event, I immediately thought of Dubai, not only because Dubai exemplifies the spirit of entrepreneurship, which is at the heart of Babson, but also just because I knew I would have a great support from my alumni here. The event in March was a huge success, and I look forward to coming back again soon and continuing the great relationship that we have with parents or alumni in the GCC region.

 

Your terminal degree, a PhD, is from Trinity college in Ireland. Despite an American background and prerequisite education, what made you an Irish institution? What did you find out about UK/Ireland collegiate system that you feel the US one should adopt?

As a student attending Trinity College in Dublin on a scholarship in the early 1980s, I experienced how living and learning in a different culture shapes and broadens one’s worldview. For me, that experience was the cornerstone of what became a lifelong passion: expanding access to education to create a prosperous and sustainable global community.

 

I’m proud to be working with an academic institution like Babson College, to which I have very strong personal ties although I didn’t study there myself. My grandfather was a citrus farmer after the Great Depression, and he wanted my mother to attend a business school for women in Florida started by Babson College founder Roger Babson. While our family didn’t have the means for her attend  Babson’s school at the time, my mother always remembers that Roger Babson was her father’s hero. She ended up going to a state school studying something else, but this was an early dream of hers, and she is so proud of me that I’m leading this Babson College.

 

As someone who was instrumental in PJRA and the set-up of the American University of Afghanistan, what have your learned about the importance of quality education, particularly in conflict-ridden zones?

In my work to provide scholarships to Afghan lawyers to study at American law schools, I have seen the power of education open students’ eyes to the importance of human rights, rule of law, women’s rights, academic freedom, and the power of entrepreneurship to lift nations out of poverty.

 

The world is evolving at breakneck speed, and with technology playing such a key part in connecting the world today, education is more accessible than ever before, but still unattainable for many people. We need to work together to create strong academic institutions that will benefit societies and strengthen future generations, and to promote an understanding of what creates a healthy society.

 

 

I’m incredibly passionate about the work that I’ve done in Afghanistan, and when I meet the young people of Afghanistan who are working so hard to get an education because they understand that this is the way to improve their future, I can’t help but want to assist them. Families and youth in conflicted parts of the world make such huge sacrifices for education, because they want to improve their societies. The young people studying at the American University of Afghanistan, where I’m a trustee, have the most heart breaking stories to tell about what they have done to get there to study, and it is incredibly inspirational.

 

What part of the world would you say has the perfect hold on their education system and why?

We hear so many negative narratives around what our future might bring: The economy will continue to stagnate; drought will overtake parts of the country, while rising seas will submerge other areas; unstoppable pandemics will develop. But in truth, a lot of optimistic innovators are out there, and they are solving the problems—big and small—of the world. As I meet all these incredible, innovative problem-solvers studying in the United States, and our alumni in the rest of the world, I am inspired about the potential for a better future.

 

In what ways would you say has your political pedigree helped your decision-making in the education sector? Conversely, in what ways would you say it has been detrimental? What kind of misconceptions does the political background bring from certain people?

I believe that I was an entrepreneurial leader in government, and I would hope that there are more out there. We should encourage people who choose any profession to try to improve that area through creative and entrepreneurial thinking.

 

I actually got into politics to bridge the gap between those who have the knowledge of what works, and those who have the power to make a change, and Babson College is uniquely equipped to create entrepreneurial change by combining academic knowledge with real world leadership.

 

While there’s actually no comparison between politics and academia, I can say that my negotiation experience has served me well, as it’s enabled me to move seamlessly between different scenarios with a clear goal in mind; to continue Babson College’s legacy of being a stellar academic institution. The breadth of experience that I have in politics and with nonprofit organizations has also proven to be a strength, since my role involves working closely with a diverse range of international stakeholders, from alumni to donors and faculty.

 

Your research on, as well as your public stance against issues such as child abuse and domestic violence shows you to be someone who cares about the youth. What would say about the ever-rising cost of college education and how the problem can be curbed?

While colleges can and must do all they can to provide a quality, affordable academic experience, students must take smart action early on to define their college experience and ensure they ultimately derive a solid return on their investment in a college education. Here is a strategy that I used to make my education more affordable. I sought out the lowest tuition at the best universities where I could gain admission, chose among them based on the best financial aid package offered and overall cost, took as many credits as permitted per semester, aggressively applied for scholarships and grants, and used term-time and summer work and working as a freshman adviser to fund my undergraduate and graduate work without debt.  It wasn’t easy, but it was effective – for me and for my family.

 

Which fields of education do you feel need the most support and promotion as of now? What can be done to increase that?

In my inaugural address, I announced a new initiative—the Babson Global Scholars Program—to provide need-based, full scholarships to a diverse and talented group of international students who would not otherwise be able to afford the College. These highly motivated and superbly talented students are ready to focus on using Entrepreneurial Thought and Action to bring economic and social benefit to their home countries and the world. Many speak three or more languages and are eagerly embracing living and learning in a new culture. Not only has their Babson experience created new opportunities for them personally, but some already are taking action at home. In Liberia, one student is working to build a new school system. In Belarus, another is helping with entrepreneurship education.

 

Speaking of which, are you finding that students, particularly female students, are still being deterred from certain majors in some ways?

In my previous career as a politician, I took for granted that most of my peers would be men. As bad as things were for women in politics, women in business were arguably facing even greater hurdles to reaching the top echelons of corporate America. Recent studies show women CEOs lead just 4 percent of Fortune 500 companies and make up less than 15 percent of their executive officers. Even when entrepreneurial women make their own opportunities, the road to success is steep: Only about 4 percent of venture funding goes to companies run by women.

 

Afghan women I know often cite the proverb that says, “A bird cannot fly with just one wing.” Much needs to be done to support women who embrace the challenge of leading in the private sector. Whether in politics or business, we need to be using 100 percent of our talent. We’re seeing an increase in female applications to Babson College, and in our Class of 2019 the women outnumber the men for the first time in Babson history, at 54 percent of the class. Just five years ago, female students made up 41 percent of the incoming class. This is a big step, and something I’m incredibly proud to be a part of.

 

How would you analyze the education prospects of the Middle East now that you’ve been here? Is there still a very long way to go?

The Middle East is facing a lot of unique challenges. The region has evolved incredibly quickly, and it has a very young population that has faced a lot of hardship through political unrest and geopolitical instability. Over 28 percent of the population in the region is aged between 15-29[1], and there is a lot of optimism for the future, which was really tangible when I visited the UAE in March.

 

At Babson we believe that education and entrepreneurship has the power to disseminate the ability to engage in and conduct commerce across society broadly. While conditions for economic activity and the rewards will vary widely it is the opportunity for individuals to use their own abilities and skills to improve their own situation and potentially expand these benefits to others as the enterprise grows. A key is for the culture to embrace entrepreneurship as a pursuit worthy of respect and admiration. The correct attitude is a precursor to creating an environment and ecosystem which supports entrepreneurial activity.

 

 

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