Dynamic Business Models focus of Clean Cooking Webinar

WDI Hosts a Panel of Business, Industry Leaders for “Front Burner: How Business Model Innovation is Driving the Clean Cooking Industry”

Time: 8 AM EDT / 3 PM EAT / 5:30 PM IST

Date: Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Location: Zoom, click here to register

Private sector innovation is a cornerstone of the efforts to bring clean cooking to the over 2.3 billion people worldwide who presently lack it.

The Clean Cooking Alliance (CCA) has supported over 25 clean cooking companies through its Venture Catalyst program, which helps firms attract investors, and grow their leadership and technical capacity to scale. Supported companies like BioLite, BURN Manufacturing, KOKO Networks and Sistema.bio have brought different product and business strategy innovations to the forefront. These include high-tech solutions like electric induction cookers, new fuels such as ethanol, targeted marketing, and business model solutions such as special purpose financing vehicles, carbon financing, and pay-as-you-go customer financing mechanisms.

The April 16 discussion, “Front Burner: How Business Model Innovation is Driving the Clean Cooking Industry,” will be hosted by the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan (WDI), and will feature panelists from CCA and these four trailblazing clean cooking companies with operations in multiple countries. Panelists will share their strategies for growing market size and scale, as well as barriers and enablers to implementing innovation. To learn more about the state of the clean cooking industry, click here for the CCA’s 2023 Annual Report.


Yaquta Fatehi
Yaquta Fatehi
Program Manager,
William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan
Simbarashe Mudimbu
Senior Portfolio Manager, Venture Programs, Clean Cooking Alliance
Ethan Kay
Managing Director,
Emerging Markets, BioLite Energy
Sophie Odupoy
Group Head of Public Affairs, KOKO Networks

WDI is supporting the learning objectives of the Clean Cooking Alliance Market Strengthening Program by developing innovative methods to measure the effectiveness of market strengthening interventions. The Institute is providing programmatic and data support, informing programmatic adaptations and pivots, and contributing to knowledge products targeting clean cooking enterprises, funders, policymakers and other stakeholders.

Webinar Clean Cooking Social Rectangle

Sophia Opatska, Vice Rector for Strategic Development at Ukrainian Catholic University

Time: 4 p.m., March 7

Location: Corner Commons, first floor of the Blau Building at the Ross School of Business

The William Davidson Institute and the Weiser Center for Europe and Eurasia are proud to present a discussion with Sophia Opatska, Vice Rector for Strategic Development at Ukrainian Catholic University. Opatska, an entrepreneur and an academic, leads University’s Lviv Business School. More than two years after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Opatska will explain how business leaders and business educators have persisted toward economic resilience in the face of war.

Through student programs, projects and university partnerships, WDI has worked in Ukraine for more than two decades. Before Russia’s invasion, the Institute sent multiple teams of U-M MBA students to Lviv Business School of Ukrainian Catholic University to assess and make recommendations to improve their consulting process for small- and medium-sized businesses in the country.

This event is open to the public. Attendees are encouraged to register and submit questions in advance. Light refreshments will be served.


Speaker Sophia Opataska graphic

23-24 Davidson Field Scholars

University of Michigan students have been essential drivers for impact since the William Davidson Institute was founded more than 30 years ago. As an independent nonprofit with an education focus, students participate in each stage of WDI’s long-term partner projects, from data analysis to strategy development to implementation. Since 2019, U-M students most dedicated to WDI’s mission to equip economic decision-makers in emerging markets with the tools for success have earned special recognition as Davidson Field Scholars.

These students are dedicated to finding business-empowered approaches to many economic and social issues in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). They also demonstrate commitment to understanding and sharing business solutions with partners through consulting, analyzing, and managing complex dilemmas for organizations around the globe.

To earn the designation, scholars must complete two courses or programs through WDI. Many students work with WDI to complete their Multidisciplinary Action Project (MAP) as part of their MBA degree through U-M’s Ross School of Business. Students may also participate in a WDI-supported internship, independent study, or other specialty projects to become Davidson Field Scholars. Through these opportunities, partner organizations secure imperative guidance and students gain meaningful skills.

Learn more about this program on our Student Opportunities page.

WDI’s 2023–24 Davidson Field Scholars

Robin Baker

Robin F. Baker (MBA ‘24)

Robin F. Baker is deeply committed to advancing health equity and improving the health and well-being of vulnerable communities. Before pursuing her MBA at Ross, Baker practiced as a licensed occupational therapist specializing in stroke rehabilitation. Baker is also the co-founder of GoTHERAPY, a nonprofit organization that has made significant strides in improving access to community-based physical rehabilitation services in West Africa.

Baker completed a WDI-sponsored MAP project with EMRI Green Health Services in India, evaluating the effectiveness of a real-time monitoring tool used for emergency response services. Baker plans to work with a WDI partner, the International Center for Rehabilitation, in Ghana, which was established by Dr. Abena Tannor. Baker will assist in the development of a hand and wrist rehabilitation device developed by Tannor, WDI and University of Michigan engineering students. 

Baker holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Kinesiology from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and earned a Master’s of Science in Occupational Therapy from Howard University. After graduating from U-M, Baker plans to join a leadership development program specializing in healthcare operations.

Alhan Fakhr

Alhan Fakhr (MBA and Master of Public Policy ‘24)

Before joining the Ross School of Business, Alhan Fakhr earned his Bachelor of Arts in Politics, graduating with the inaugural class of New York University – Shanghai. Born and raised in Pakistan, Fakhr also attended college in China, and has lived and worked in the United States, the United Arab Emirates, the Czech Republic and Malaysia.

Fakhr has completed a Multidisciplinary Action Project (MAP) with One Acre Fund in Rwanda, working on expanding the organization’s digital fundraising strategy to include a higher volume of small donors.

Fakhr also spent the summer of 2024 in Kigali working on a growth strategy initiative for the Rwandan program and is involved in the International Investment Fund.

Davontae Foxx-Drew

Davontae “Nate” Foxx-Drew (MBA and Master of Health Services Administration, ‘24)

Davontae “Nate” Foxx-Drew is pursuing a dual-degree from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and School Public Health. An alumnus of the University of California, Los Angeles with a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology and African American Studies, Foxx-Drew’s drive stems from a deep-seated interest in healthcare executive leadership, aiming to reshape healthcare delivery systems globally.

While at Ross, Foxx-Drew completed a WDI-sponsored Multidisciplinary Action Project in Ethiopia, targeting improving healthcare access in sub-Saharan Africa. Collaborating with International Clinical Laboratories and Cerba Lancet Africa, the objective was to enhance access to essential laboratory and diagnostic supplies. In 2024, Foxx-Drew  plans to work with a WDI partner, the International Center for Rehabilitation, in Ghana, which was established by Dr. Abena Tannor. Foxx-Drew will assist in the development of a hand and wrist rehabilitation device developed by Tannor, WDI and University of Michigan engineering students. 

Foxx-Drew has worked with various global entities, from strategizing HR initiatives for the University of California to optimizing healthcare solutions in Ethiopia.

After completing his studies, Foxx-Drew  has accepted a full-time role at UnitedHealth Group, where he will join their Leadership Experience cohort. In this position, Foxx-Drew will work across the UHG enterprise in strategy, operations, and risk management, furthering his commitment to increasing access to care and demonstrating his leadership in healthcare and health equity. His post-graduate career at UnitedHealth Group aligns with his vision of designing robust, efficient, and inclusive healthcare delivery models.

Stephen Schiavone

Stephen Schiavone (Weekend MBA ‘24)

Stephen Schiavone is completing the Weekend MBA at U-M’s Ross School of Business. Born and raised outside of New York City, Schiavone has always been involved with small businesses and the startup space. Schiavone is a graduate of a Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute with dual majors in Business and Design, Innovation, and Society. Schiavone has been working as a technology consultant, as well as for the past six years. He has a passion for solving complex business and technology challenges with diverse teams.

Schiavone completed a WDI-sponsored MAP project with Poornatha in India.  His team worked to extend their training program into business to consumer operations and added a consulting element.

After graduating from U-M, Schiavone plans to pursue a career in Entrepreneurship Through Acquisition (ETA), starting a Search Fund in Spring 2024

From Ethiopia to Vietnam, WDI graduate student teams go the distance

Student Opportunties

BA 685: International Center for Rehabilitation in Kumasi, Ghana.
Distributed Fertilizer New Product Commercialization, Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa; Kampala, Uganda.
BA: 685 Poovanthi (LiveWell) in Chennai, India
MAP: Poornatha in Madurai, India.
MAP: International Clinical Laboratories, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
MAP: Boston Medical / Busoga Health Forum in Kampala, Uganda.
Previous slide
Next slide

This spring, the William Davidson Institute supported 13 partner projects in nine countries  involving more than 75 University of Michigan graduate students as part of their MBA degree program.

WDI organized a total of nine multidisciplinary action projects (MAPs) with partners in India, Ethiopia, Ghana, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda and Vietnam. The MAP experience at U-M’s Ross School of Business is designed to help part-time, full-time and online students hone their analytical, project management and leadership skills while helping to solve real business challenges at participating companies and nonprofit organizations.

Four other projects as part of the WDI-supported graduate MBA course, BA 685: Healthcare Delivery in Emerging Markets, took place in the Dominican Republic, Ghana, India and Kenya.  WDI also supported 12 students traveling to Nigeria and Ghana to conduct due diligence on companies under consideration by the International Investment Fund, as well as an independent study for one student.

Learn more about the projects and their objectives below.


TIP Global Health, Kigali and Ruli, Rwanda.
Objective: Conduct a financial analysis of the current digital health platform used to support healthcare providers in Rwanda, and develop a recommendation for pricing to implement and support the platform for other government health systems.

Boston Medical / Busoga Health Forum, Kampala, Uganda.
Objective: Working with an imaging business in Ethiopia and partners in Uganda, a team conducted market analysis and market entry strategy to extend the imaging services into Uganda.

PowerTrust, Accra, Tamale and Sunyani, Ghana.
Objective: Identify and develop a systematic way to capture, validate and communicate the value of distributed renewable energy credits (DRECs) in Ghana.

International Clinical Laboratories, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Objective: A feasibility study for developing manufacturing and supply hubs for clinical laboratory inputs in Addis Ababa Ethiopia for diagnostics laboratories located throughout Africa.

Distributed Fertilizer New Product Commercialization, Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa; Kampala, Uganda.
Objective: Develop a comprehensive market analysis and market entry strategy for a technology that allows for production of fertilizer at a smaller scale and lower energy cost in South Africa and Rwanda. The technology would significantly reduce the supply chain risks and potentially the costs to farmers and co-ops in these markets.

Poornatha Madurai, India.
Objective: Develop a plan to increase Poornatha’s business-to-consumer model complete with specific offerings tailored to consumers.

Solagron, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Objective: Conduct market analysis and develop a market entry strategy for high-protein, spirulina-based products by Solagron.

Two additional projects at Kisii Eye Hospital and a partner in the Michigan Academy of Development Entrepreneurs in Vietnam are planned for summer 2023.

BA 685

Clínica de Familia La Romana, Romana, Dominican Republic. 
Objective: Develop a financial model for adding GI services to the existing operations at the clinic.

International Center for Rehabilitation, Kumasi, Ghana.  
Objective: Develop recommendations for improving the efficiency of the clinic and doubling the capacity of the existing rehabilitation clinic.

Kisii Hospital Vision Center, Kisii, Kenya
Objective: To develop a protocol for establishing vision centers around Kisii and develop recommendations for potential new locations.

Poovanthi (LiveWell): Chennai, India
Poovanthi was established over 10 years ago and has expanded to 100 beds at its original facility outside of Madurai and 30 beds at a recently opened facility in Chennai. This team’s objective was to develop a five-year strategic plan to support Poovanthi’s expansion plans.

Learn more about WDI Student Opportunities.

Promotional graphic for energy case competition

A global energy transition is underway. WDI’s latest case writing competition aims to increase the pool of higher education case studies on this critical topic.

The world needs a major investment boost around energy output and infrastructure to meet challenges related to demand, security, and sustainability — and many of the changes will take place in emerging markets. Leaders in these nations are working hard to achieve ambitious development goals, and governments, businesses, and other stakeholders will be integral in securing the $1.3 trillion that is estimated to  be needed to support the growing global population, according to J.P. Morgan’s Annual Energy Outlook. Fulfilling this demand calls for innovation, and innovation requires new voices and new ways of improving business knowledge.

This is why the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan (WDI) has launched the Energy Innovation in Low- and Middle-Income Countries Global Case Writing Competition. Administered by WDI Publishing, the contest is seeking new voices and expertise in the form of business case studies.


Case studies encourage current and future business leaders to expand their education, question their assumptions and discover innovative strategies. The development and use of these cases will help accelerate global understanding of the energy technologies and innovations being implemented by businesses operating in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

At the moment, the energy industry is facing large-scale and complex challenges, while the transition away from fossil fuels is creating new opportunities, especially in LMICs. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, 733 million people are currently living without electricity and  2.6 billion people — many of whom are in LMICs — cook or heat their homes with fuels that are harmful to their health and the environment. These challenges can’t be resolved with old solutions and ways of thinking.  Universities and colleges have the power to integrate new approaches and business models for energy challenges into their curricula to prepare the next generation of decision-makers.

“Global competitions like this can draw out new research and initiatives that we may not otherwise know about,” said Sandra Draheim, Manager of Case Publishing at WDI. “By incentivizing and rewarding the development of new cases, we aim to help students to be better informed and equipped to lead companies into the future, especially those companies focused on generating and executing innovative energy solutions in emerging markets. WDI’s case writing competition seeks to broaden and increase the pool of studies available on this essential topic.”


Students, faculty and professionals connected to the energy industry in LMICs are uniquely positioned to enhance this discussion. “Many of these changes are happening rapidly, and maybe not yet at a large scale, so new case studies can add a lot of value to the knowledge around this topic by capturing lessons learned in real-time, analyzing what is and is not working, and shining a spotlight on promising approaches,” says Dana Gorodetsky, Program Manager of Energy at WDI.

With that in mind, WDI’s Energy Innovation in Low- and Middle-Income Countries Global Case Writing Competition is a call for cases focused on compelling energy questions arising from profit-seeking businesses in emerging markets.

The competition is open to submissions from practitioners, students and faculty from around the globe. Practitioners and students must enter in collaboration with a faculty member.

An informational webinar will be held at 10 am EST, Dec. 14, and will provide an overview of the competition, as well as case writing tips. Intent-to-Enter forms are due on Jan. 31, 2023, and the final submission deadline is March 31, 2023. Find the submission requirements here.

Finalist cases will be reviewed and ranked by several industry experts: Deeana Ahmed, Vice President of Strategy, Policy, and Sustainability at ONE; Kate Gasparro, Director of Land Development and Sustainability at Bedrock Detroit; Ann O’Hara, President of Huhtamaki North America; and Dan Vermeer, Associate Professor of the Practice of Energy & Environment and Executive Director of the Center for Energy, Development, and the Global Environment at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.

Winners won’t just get the chance to contribute their unique perspectives to this meaningful conversation, they’ll also earn an award after the public announcement in July 2023. The first-place winner will receive $3,000, second-place $2,000, and third-place $1,000.

Find more details on the competition.

Play Video about WDI's 30th anniversary dinner celebration featuring the Ralph J Gerson Distinguished Lecture speaker Magatte Wade

Click the image to watch the recording of the Ralph J. Gerson Distinguished Lecturer Magatte Wade.

African Entrepreneur and Advocate Magatte Wade Speaks at This Year’s Ralph J. Gerson Distinguished Lecture

The William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan (WDI) celebrated its 30th anniversary with the in-person return of the Ralph J. Gerson Distinguished Lecture. The Nov. 10 evening brought together members of the WDI community for a celebratory dinner and moving speech from Magatte Wade, entrepreneur and advocate for African dignity and prosperity.

The lecture is named in honor of the Institute’s longest serving board member, Ralph J. Gerson. Gerson led Guardian Industries Corporation in multiple roles for years, and he currently serves on philanthropic and policy boards across Michigan and the U.S. He is now the Director of the William Davidson Foundation.

Wade kicked off her talk by highlighting the connection she felt with WDI. “When I discovered WDI, I thought, ‘Where have you been my whole life? Maybe I should have started with you,’” she said. Wade is a strong advocate for easing and boosting private business, particularly small- and medium-sized businesses, through economic freedom in Africa. Her work aligns closely with the mission at WDI: equipping economic decision-makers in emerging countries with the tools of commercial success.

Wade, who was born in Senegal and later moved to Europe and the United States, spent years of her life wondering why communities in Africa were suffering from poverty and those in other parts of the world were thriving economically. Eventually, she concluded that the complex and detrimental business policies in many African nations were stunting their economic growth — and she began to advocate for smoother, easier, more functional business opportunities across the continent.

I can’t think of a better ambassador for the mission and the vision of the Institute, which is the power of business to deliver on economic growth and social freedom.

“I can’t think of a better ambassador for the mission and the vision of the Institute, which is the power of business to deliver on economic growth and social freedom,” said WDI President Paul Clyde, as he welcomed her to give her “The Heart of the Cheetah: Entrepreneurship & Prosperity in Africa” talk. Describing her impact and connection to WDI, Clyde explained that Wade is a “tireless supporter of individuals and their ability to create economic value when given the opportunity to do so.”

After detailing the many-layered difficulties that arise when doing business in an African nation from strict government policies, challenging taxes and complex business systems, Wade asked the crowd whether they would choose to do business in a place that created roadblocks or one that allowed for a smooth path. That question, she said, provided the answer she’d been searching for all along. “At the end of the day, you are poor because you have no money. There’s not enough money to take care of your primary needs. You have no money because you have no income. What is the source of income for most of us? Jobs. Where do jobs come from? The private sector. And so don’t you then think that we should make it easy for businesses to be born and thrive.”

This conclusion set her on her path to boost economic freedom and business opportunities across the continent, through her own enterprises, speaking engagements, policy advocacy and powerful global fellowships. Her TED Talk, “Why it is too hard to start a business in Africa — and how to change it” has been viewed by over 600,000 people. She’s a Young Global Leader with the World Economic Forum at Davos, a TED Global Africa Fellow, and one of Forbes’ “10 Youngest Power Women in Africa.”

Wade has built multiple businesses in Africa inspired by diverse African traditions, including her most recent endeavor, SkinIsSkin.com. She urges the global community to shift its perspective from aiding African communities. Instead of creating a system that relies on aid, she tells global consumers to “buy African products made in Africa by Africans.” Her point: let business thrive, and Africa will thrive.

Wade has seen the impact her businesses and entrepreneurial mindset have had on herself and others. Her manufacturing-focused businesses have helped boost rural communities’ manufacturing facilities. Meanwhile, Wade continues to advocate for policy changes at the national and local levels through groups like the Atlas Network’s Center for African Prosperity. Still, she knows there’s more room for growth.

“Whatever we’ve been able to accomplish, it would be multiplied by the right business environment,” Wade said. “At the end of the day, I believe that business is the greatest force of good.”

WDI president Paul Clyde speaking with guests.
Michigan Ross Dean Sharon Matusik speaking with WDI board member Ralph Gerson.
Author and entrepreneur, Magatte Wade, presenting at the WDI 30th Anniversary Celebration.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell speaking with WDI Board Member Ralph Gerson and Ross Dean Sharon Matusik.
Ralph Gerson listening to speaker Magatte Wade.
Michigan Ross Dean Sharon Matusik during WDI's 30th anniversary celebration.
Guest speaker Magatte Wade with U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell.
Left to right: WDI President Paul Clyde, Michigan Ross Dean Sharon Matusik, guest speaker Magatte Wade and WDI Board Member Ralph Gerson.
Previous slide
Next slide

Thank you to all who attended the event on Nov 16th. A recording of the event is now available (above) and on the WDI Youtube Channel.

Yigal Schleifer, co-founder of Culinary Backstreets, will discuss the growing business of culinary tourism

Culinary-focused travel has become a hot trend within the tourism sector in recent years. Tourists increasingly prefer to let their taste buds decide how and where they travel. For cities and countries looking to market themselves, culinary tourism has become an essential and powerful branding element.

But can this kind of travel be about much more than food? Yigal Schleifer, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Culinary Backstreets, will tackle that question and more during a talk hosted by the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan. The discussion, “Crossing Borders and Cuisines: A New Flavor of Sustainable Tourism,” is slated for 5:00–6:00 PM, Nov. 16 in R1230 of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. The session is free and open to the public. It also will be broadcast via Zoom; click here to register.

Schleifer will explore how Culinary Backstreets, which provides tours in a dozen cities around the world, uses food-oriented travel to promote cross-cultural communication and sustainable tourism for more impactful experiences. Created in 2012, Culinary Backstreets covers the local and traditional food scene and offers immersive small group culinary walks in cities including Istanbul, Lisbon, Mexico City, Tbilisi, Tokyo, Barcelona and a half dozen more. The talk will also look at how the COVID crisis has impacted culinary travel and how this sector can be rebuilt with an eye towards sustainability.

Between 2002 and 2010, Schleifer was based in Istanbul, where he worked as a correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor and the German Press Agency (dpa). While in Istanbul he also co-founded Istanbul Eats, an award-winning blog about the city’s local food scene, and co-wrote a guidebook of the same name. He also launched “Istanbul Calling,” a blog about Turkish foreign and domestic affairs. Schleifer’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Foreign Policy, Ha’aretz, The Times (London) and several other publications.

Schleifer was an advisory board member for the Livelihoods Innovation through Food Entrepreneurship (LIFE) Project, which supported and encouraged people to engage across cultures through entrepreneurship and job creation in the food sector. Since 2017, WDI’s Entrepreneurship Development Center has worked on the U.S. government-funded LIFE Project, in collaboration with the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE), IDEMA, Union Kitchen and the Stimson Center.

Join us on Nov 16 for speaker Yigal Schleifer

Magatte Wade headshot with event details

The 2022 Ralph J. Gerson Distinguished Lecturer explores how reforming small-business processes in Africa will boost the continent’s economy

Magatte Wade, entrepreneur, author and advocate for African dignity and prosperity through business growth, will deliver the Ralph J. Gerson Distinguished Lecture at 7 p.m. Nov. 10. The discussion will be broadcast via Zoom. (Register here to join the event).

Wade’s talk, “The Heart of the Cheetah: Entrepreneurship and Prosperity in Africa,” will focus on the power of business growth and importance of business-friendly infrastructure, which she sees as critical to innovation and economic flourishing on the continent. As an entrepreneur from Senegal, Wade has decried a lack of business infrastructure and subsequent unemployment as key reasons why many Africans risk their lives to migrate to other countries.

The Ralph J. Gerson Distinguished Lecture gathers the community around the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan to celebrate and promote ways businesses can positively impact social challenges. Its transformative speakers bring unique perspectives on economic development, new considerations around innovative business models and informed evaluations of emerging markets.

Wade joins the series’ two past lecturers — Nobel Prize-winning Economist Sir Angus Deaton and Kevin Lobo, Chairman and CEO of Stryker Corp. — in her work highlighting economic acceleration through business tools.

“Magatte Wade is an outspoken advocate for the benefits that profitable businesses bring to an economy,” said WDI President Paul Clyde. “She is a successful entrepreneur who understands the value and importance of business in the development of an economy. Considering WDI’s mission of equipping economic decision makers in emerging countries with the tools of commercial success, it’s hard to think of a stronger advocate with a more relevant background than Wade.”

Wade was named one of Forbes’ “20 Youngest Power Women in Africa,” a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum at Davos, and a “Leading Woman in Wellness” award-winner with the Global Wellness Summit. She’s the Director of the Atlas Network’s Center for Africa Prosperity, a member of the Board of Directors of Conscious Capitalism Inc., and a member of the Advisory Board of the Whole Planet Foundation with Whole Foods Market.

As a TED Global Africa Fellow, her TED Talk, titled “Why it’s so hard to start a business in Africa — and how to change it,” has nearly 650,000 views. In her talk, Wade draws a clear and definitive thread between poverty reduction and business creation — asserting that the solution to poverty is making it easier for small businesses to start, run and thrive. In it, she describes how she came to this conclusion: “I have this attitude in life. Something is wrong, find a way to fix it. That’s why I start the businesses that I start, usually consumer brands, that have embedded in them the very best of my African culture.”

Wade describes what it’s like for her to run these businesses in Senegal, navigating the complicated and problematic laws and processes. “It’s like swimming through molasses,” she said. Knowing the impact these stifling rules have on business growth, Wade advocates for easing these restrictions and creating systems that promote private economic development. Not only does changing these laws make a major difference in business success, she explained, but shining a light on them can shift the outlook Africans have about their own capabilities and potential.

Her new book, “The Heart of the Cheetah,” will be released soon.

Register to watch Wade’s speech live on Zoom at 7 p.m. Nov. 10.


Register Now



Sophia Opatska, Vice Rector at Ukraine Catholic University

Q & A

A Discussion with Sophia Opatska, Vice Rector at Ukraine Catholic University—a WDI partner

Editor’s Note: Through student programs, projects and university partnerships, the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan (WDI) has worked in Ukraine for more than two decades. This year, the Institute planned to send MBA students to Lviv Business School of Ukrainian Catholic University (LvBS) to assess and make recommendations to improve their consulting process for small and medium-sized businesses. The project, the second in as many years with LvBS, was part of an expansion of the Michigan Academy for Developing Entrepreneurs (MADE). 

But with Russia’s military advance in February, WDI and U-M decided not to send the team of four students to Lviv, which is located in western Ukraine. WDI President Paul Clyde has been in contact with Sophia Opatska, Vice Rector at Ukraine Catholic University. Opatska offered to give an interview to help spread the word about what is happening there and its greater context. Her responses were sent on March 5—the tenth day of the invasion.

Paul Clyde: Your university has been very active in a variety of areas in response to Russian aggression. How are you able to do that and what is the overall morale in your community?

Sophia Opatska: First of all, we should mention that our University is in the west of the country. Though we do not feel safe because the air is open and we think when Putin gets really angry, we will be the target. If not number 1, probably number 2. Of course, compared to east and south of Ukraine we are in a much better situation, but everybody tries to keep himself or herself busy and help. It not only creates some value for others, but also helps mentally to people. If you are just watching only news, it is really scary, creates a lot of anxiety and you are very unproductive in that way.

We also have a number of initiatives on the campus to help and keep (up) the morale. For example, we have very clear rules for people who are living with us as refugees. They have to get engaged in volunteering and social work and have meetings with our community. We are in communication with our students who left the country. And of course, prayer helps. We have a number of prayers that happen in our Church, which are also online and people can join.  Psychology faculty created psychologically advisory, anyone can approach. Our law students are getting all the evidence, which they can provide to the International Court. Our historians are collecting a lot of stories to create (an) oral history of the war. Maybe right now it looks a little bit weird and strange, but it will be something crucial for the nation in a year, five or ten. In my class, students are writing appeals to international companies to stop work in and with Russia. Indeed, we know that our small contribution helps. (It is) one thing when the Ukrainian Office is putting pressure on the headquarters, but another thing when they start to be bombarded by letters from young people that you have to stop doing business with Russia and in Russia because you are financing the war.

We also communicate with various international communities and ask them to stop the rhetoric of the “Ukrainian crisis.” This is wrong rhetoric. We don’t have crises, we have a war. It is the tenth day of the war when thousands of civilians have been killed, where 7.5 million children are in danger and wording has to be correct.

We also communicate with various international communities and ask them to stop the rhetoric of the 'Ukrainian crisis.' This is wrong rhetoric. We don’t have crises, we have a war.

Clyde: You have been providing education to the youth of Ukraine for over twenty years. Can you describe how student views are different now than twenty years ago and how that is affecting the Ukrainian response?

Opatska: Over the last twenty years, we had two revolutions and a war: The Orange revolution in 2004, we had a Revolution of dignity 2013-2014 and it was a long-standing protest for three months during winter, which then succeeded and which made Russians and Putin so angry that they invaded part of Ukraine. Which means that war has been going on for eight years. So in some sense we already have experience of fighting.

Of course, young people who are now students of the University, in 2014 were between nine and 15 years old. So, this is a new experience for them. I would say that those who are older were able to get into work very quickly, we already had experiences with volunteering activities and maybe that is why all initiatives started so quickly. But for students, it is a new experience and I think they are going through a very huge learning process in that. But when you combine their initiatives and new ideas with the experience of those people who were in previous revolutions, who were in the war in the east of Ukraine, it helps a lot on both sides.

Clyde: Over the past thirty years, culminating in the current war, it has become clear that Ukraine is a mature independent country. How much do you think that fact versus some of the other stated reasons (e.g. NATO enrollment) is causing the Russian actions?

Opatska: Great question. I think that was a lot of manipulation that this is about NATO, that this is about us joining the EU. Putin is really furious that in 2014 we stood for democratic values, for human dignity, and for European values and he lost in it. And I think his plan was to have Russian tanks in a couple of hours in Maidan (the city center of Kyiv), and that is why he is targeting Kyiv so badly as a symbol of freedom and democracy, and obviously we went through the long journey of self-identification as a nation. The issue of language was very long used to divide Ukraine, but if you look on the people who are fighting the most at the moment – Kharkiv, Kherson, Zaporizhia, Sumy, Chernigiv – in many ways those regions are Russian-speaking regions and they are not ready to give (up) any piece of land. Probably the plan of Putin was to come and be greeted with flowers in those regions to rely on people who are against Ukraine, and we don’t see that. His global plan is to show the whole world that democracy is not working. The rhetoric of Ukraine as a failed, corrupted state was very actively supported in various media and it was also one of the plans of Putin and (his) servants. Unfortunately, it was also very well accepted in the west, and I think we did a huge journey as I mentioned, but I think the reflection should be done, not only by us, but reflection should be done in the west. We get some signals by admiring (the) courage of the Ukrainian people, and how great our President shows leadership, character. But I think the reflection should be done much deeper: Who we are and what is our effort to save the whole of humanity.

Clyde: What is the main thing you want the world to know about how you, your university, and your country are reacting to the war with Russia?

Opatska: So, there are two levels, I am always saying we have short-term planning and long-term planning. We don’t think in weeks, we think in hours, and days and we think in months and years that are very important for us that give us hope.

Of course, there is so much help short-term and we really appreciate that help from many countries: help to our army, help to refugees, welcoming people who right now need a home, food, and some comfort. We are very grateful for bigger and smaller efforts. At the same time, we as an educational institution need to think about what will be our role in the future.

We truly believe that the victory will come: We do not know when and what will be the price. In case we fail, the whole world will fail. No matter if you are in Portugal, France, the UK, or North America, the ocean does not help much when nuclear power is being used. And the whole system of democracy can fail to be totalitarian, therefore Ukraine is on the frontline of saving it.

So our role as University will be very significant when we will be rebuilding the country and we really need to have a Marshall Plan for Ukraine and our human capital. Though many people leave Ukraine now, we need the best people to come back.

Paul Clyde, President of WDI

Paul Clyde is president of the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan.

Headshots of the three Steven's Initiative Student Fellows

The Stevens Initiative, which supported two WDI-managed programs, announced 14 Fellows in the worldwide cohort

Three student alums of international virtual exchanges managed by the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan (WDI) have been invited to join an inaugural fellowship launched by the Stevens Initiative, the supporting partner of the programs.

The Stevens Initiative selected at total five fellows from the U.S. and nine fellows from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region for the inaugural 2022 Stevens Initiative Alumni Fellowship cohort. The organization described the fellowships as an “immersive learning opportunity for young professionals,” all of whom have completed a Stevens Initiative-funded virtual exchange with distinction. The program will include monthly synchronous and asynchronous activities, and individual coaching sessions, culminating at an in-person summit in Washington D.C. at the beginning of 2023.

“Through this fellowship, alumni will develop personally and professionally as global leaders, intercultural communicators, and cross-cultural collaborators while forming long-lasting relationships with their peers and the Initiative,” the organization stated. Learn more about the program and the other fellows here

WDI has managed two programs funded by the Stevens Initiative: The MENA-Michigan Initiative for Global Action Through Entrepreneurship (M²GATE) and Business & Culture, a virtual practicum now in its third semester at the Ross School of Business at U-M.

The WDI-affiliated student fellows are Whitney Brooks, a U-M undergraduate student and 2021 alumna of Business & Culture; Mohamed Hassan, who was a winning team member in the M²GATE Pitch Competition in 2018; and Nouha Ziade, a 2020 B&C alumna, who is now an elementary teacher at the American Creativity Academy in Kuwait.

“We are so proud of our three WDI virtual exchange alums, Mohammed, Nouha and Whitney,” said Amy Gillett, Vice President-Education at WDI “They demonstrated leadership as participants in our programs and now have a great opportunity through this fellowship to continue to develop their skills as leaders and cross-cultural collaborators. They’ll also learn some new ways to promote virtual exchange in their own communities, helping to forge more invaluable global connections.”

From 2017-2019, the M²GATE program brought together more than 400 students from five Michigan university campuses and their peers in Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia. Harnessing the power of virtual exchange, the students worked in teams to find entrepreneurial solutions to social challenges in the MENA region, while learning new skills, building cross cultural experiences and forging new relationships. The program culminated in a visit by the winning teams to Ann Arbor to participate in a week of entrepreneurial activities, including a business pitch competition in November 2018.

Business & Culture is an action-based learning course on international business cultures connecting U-M undergraduate students with peers from Egypt, Lebanon and Libya. More than 400 students from American University in Cairo and the American University of Beirut, and students in Benghazi Libya, and U-M have participated in the course to date.

The WDI-organized programs represent a strong point in a broader global network of virtual exchange projects supported by the Stevens Initiative. Through its 86 grants around the world, the Stevens Initiative will reach nearly 75,000 young people by 2023 as part of its vision of giving every young person the knowledge, skills and experiences they need to prosper in an increasingly interconnected world.

About the Fellows

Whitney Brooks

In addition to pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Art and Design, Brooks has worked as a marketing and media intern at the Zell Lurie Institute at Michigan Ross, supporting its long-term brand identity goal by creating digital graphic assets. Brooks, who hails from Detroit, has an interest in product/industrial design that encourages thoughtful decisions.

Mohamed Hassan

Hassan is a senior undergraduate student at the American University in Cairo, where he is majoring in Engineering with minors in Economics and Sociology. He is currently an Associate Coach at The Center for Learning and Teaching at his university, where he works on designing and facilitating professional development workshops to expose students to design thinking. Hassan is from Egypt and has a passion for outdoor “nature-based: activities, adventure sports, personal development, volunteering, traveling, watching movies, and reading novels of nonfiction, culture and romance.

Nouha Ziade

Ziade, originally from Tripoli, Lebanon, is an elementary teacher at the American Creativity Academy in Kuwait, where she teaches homeroom subjects for third grade students. Previously, she worked as an ambassador for Localized World in Lebanon. She also participated in the Alumni Review Committee for the Stevens Initiative 2020 Virtual Exchange Grant Competition. Ziade has a dual degree in Business Administration and Elementary Education with a Teaching Diploma from the American University of Beirut and is currently studying for a bachelor’s degree in Data Science at the Lebanese University. Her interests include traveling, culture, film and archery.

About WDI

At the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan, unlocking the power of business to provide lasting economic and social prosperity in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) is in our DNA. We gather the data, develop new models, test concepts and collaborate with partners to find real solutions that lead to new opportunities. This is what we mean by Solving for Business – our calling since the Institute was first founded as an independent nonprofit educational organization in 1992. We believe societies that empower individuals with the tools and skills to excel in business, in turn generate both economic growth and social freedom – or the agency necessary for people to thrive.

Media Contact:

Scott Anderson, WDI Communications Manager


Back to Top