An exchange of ideas

It’s an investment of a different kind for a select group of undergraduate students at the U of M’s Asper School of Business. In a summer exchange program already underway, students from both Canada and Israel are learning firsthand the intricacies of conducting international business.

Roxanne Rusk, a 22-year-old marketing major ,is one of 20 undergraduates participating in the Arni C. Thorsteinson Exchange Program; an academic collaboration between the University of Manitoba and Ben-Gurion University in Israel.

“The program’s goals are to increase the interest level and awareness of the students in the field of international business and improve their level of knowledge regarding the cultural and political history of Canada and Israel,” said Robert Warren, Executive Director of the Stu Clark Centre for Entrepreneurship.
Throughout the month of August, the international group will attend lectures, workshops and personal meetings in three different cities spread across Canada and Israel.

For the moment, the collective is in Winnipeg where they have been meeting with transnational companies Conviron, Centre Port, and the Winnipeg Airport Authority. The students are also conducting market analysis and outlining business strategies pertaining to the topics and companies they have been assigned.

Rusk’s group – comprised of two Canadians and two Israelis – were given the hypothetical task of introducing Israeli cosmetic company, Laline, into the Canadian market.

“The point is to learn about the Canadian market and pick the brains of business executives to help us create a marketing plan,” said Rusk. “It’s the kind of education you won’t find in the best textbooks.”

Soon, these ideas will be pitched in Toronto and later Tel Aviv for more feedback and constructive criticism from senior business leaders of major banks, law firms and the corporate sector (IT programs).

“The goal of meeting the business leaders is for the students to gain a real-world perspective on the issues faced in international trade,” saidWarren. “This feedback will allow the students to modify their assumptions or identify areas overlooked in their original plans.”

In a press release by the Stu Clarke Centre, course professor Sergio Carvalho said there are many benefits of learning from a culture and economy like Israel.
“Israel is one of the most dynamic entrepreneurial and innovation-based economies and yet it is surrounded by enemies, lacks natural resources and has limited access to regional markets,” Said Carvalho.“We in the West can learn a great deal from Israel on how they have transformed hard-earned advantages into one of the fastest growing innovation-based economies.”

Since its inception seven years ago, the exchange program has undergone fundamental shifts in focus.

“I was approached because the original intent was to focus on entrepreneurship and new venture creation, which we did for the program’s first three years,” said Warren. “We have since shifted to marketing as it appeals to a broader base of students both here and in Israel.”

And the program isn’t just about mere dollars and cents.

The exchange students from Israel are, on average, five years older than their Canadian collaborators. Many have fulfilled military service obligations in their native land and have travelled extensively prior to entering university.

“This means that we get to interact with people who have already held positions of leadership, and have had to deal with situations in which we can only imagine,” said Rusk. “I have seen Manitoba through different eyes this week.”