Undergrads Kickoff Social Entrepreneurship Virtual Exchange

Friday, February 9, 2018

Students gather at U-M’s Ross School of Business for the launch of the M²GATE program.


Brett Ritter admitted to feeling a bit nervous at the kickoff event for WDI’s new  M²GATE program where he would meet his international teammates for the first time. He worried that cultural differences and a language barrier might hinder his ability to work with his peers from the Middle East and North Africa.

“There were a lot of unknowns that made me a little worried if this program was right for me,” the freshman finance major at the Ross School of Business said. “But I was given great guidance by our leaders as to what the program was all about. The mentors made me excited to go forward working with my team. I also enjoyed meeting my team for the first time.”

“We learned a lot about each other in such a short period and it really opened my eyes.”

Ritter is one of 53 U-M students participating in the first cohort of the MENA-Michigan Initiative for Global Action Through Entrepreneurship (M²GATE) program. He and his fellow Wolverines are paired with 112 undergrads from top universities in Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia to find entrepreneurial solutions to social challenges in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. (Applications are being accepted through March 1 for the second and third cohorts for the program, which is open to undergraduates from Eastern Michigan University and Wayne State University along with all three U-M campuses.)

For the first cohort, the 165 total students were placed on 28 teams of five to six students each. Working virtually, teams will develop social entrepreneurship projects and accompanying pitches over an eight-week period. Guiding them along the way are instructors, mentors, and successful entrepreneurs from MENA and Michigan. The teams coordinate times for virtual group work and produce a pitch video as a final assignment.

Claudia Cornejo, a sophomore at Ross studying business administration, couldn’t wait to attend the Jan. 26 program kickoff. She was excited to meet the students she would work with, understand their perspectives on the program and why they are interested in social impact. After meeting her teammates from Morocco, she said she was fascinated by the idea that although they grew up in different worlds, all were aware of social challenges within their own communities and were motivated to join a program that addressed them.

“It was incredible to see just how similar our personalities and perspectives were, even though our upbringings and environments are so distinct,” Cornejo said.

At the program kickoff, participants from the four MENA countries were beamed via video chat into a Ross School of Business classroom where the U-M students were seated. After introductions, the students worked on a team-building exercise before coming back together to report on what they learned. Program organizers then walked the teams through the eight-week schedule and where to go for resources.

Cornejo said she is interested in education policy in the U.S. and around the world, and believes entrepreneurship could be an untraditional approach to help solve challenges.

“This program took my interests to the next level by allowing me to work one-on-one with people from different parts of the world,” she said. “I have come across many different programs and organizations that do work internationally but never give you this unique personal relationship with fellow students around the world. M²GATE provides the perfect platform that connects me to students with the same passions and goals as me, but with different perspectives, worldviews and approaches to try and achieve these goals.”

Ritter said he is currently working on a social entrepreneurship project independently and thought M²GATE would help him learn more. He also wanted to connect with people from other cultures.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience where we could have mentors help us help the world,” Ritter said. “What I found appealing about the project was that it teaches team building and valuable communication skills that are essential for any aspiring businessman.”

Adrian Maloy, a second-year student majoring in accounting and finance at UM-Dearborn, was teamed with some students in Tunisia. He said the M²GATE program was appealing because it exposes him to a different culture.

“Our world is becoming smaller, and taking the opportunity to gain global competencies will become a companion in how people develop socially,” Maloy said. “I feel this program allows you to gain those competencies.”

Cornejo and Ritter also see the program as a possible stepping stone to studying abroad and maybe a career overseas.

“I have always seen my career path taking me abroad, however this will be my first experience communicating across different cultures to try and ameliorate a social issue affecting many people around the world,” Cornejo said. “I want to learn how other cultures approach issues such as education reform, and how we can translate and combine our ideas to create an even better solution than just one community or culture could come up with.

“I am a firm believer that analyzing different perspectives and cultures can lead you to a more comprehensive solution to any problem.”

Ritter said he hopes the program gives him some guidance on “what my purpose is on helping society.”

“We all need to do our part, and I hope this program can make me realize what that part is,” he said, adding that it might be spending a semester or more studying overseas.

“Studying abroad is one of the greatest experiences I can get,” he said. “It’s college. I want to live it to the fullest, however I can.”


Applications for M2GATE are being accepted through March 1 here.


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