Student consultants present economic development initiatives for Bosnia

December 3, 2008

Real-world planning experience was on display as Partners for Progress Ltd., a pro-bono consulting firm created by Cornell University students, recently presented two programs they have developed for the Bosnia Initiatives for Local Development (BILD) Foundation and the South East Europe Development Solutions (SEEDS) Foundation. Representatives of BILD, SEEDS, and the US Embassy in Bosnia attended.

Formed by the graduate students of CRP Professor David Lewis's "Project Planning in Developing Countries" workshop, Partners for Progress (PfP), has identified four target development opportunities in Tuzla, a city in northeastern Bosnia: reducing education disparity, increasing civic engagement, improving access to technology, and enhancing professional skills. Using the proposals developed by PfP, BILD and SEEDS plan to launch their Tuzla initiatives, New Initiatives Support Center (NISC) and Tuzla Summer Institute (TSI), in July 2009.

"The students in the class represent a really extraordinary assembly of talent," said Lewis, who also directs the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs (CIPA). The group brings together a diverse range of experience, including work in the Peace Corps, journalism, missionary outreach, and horticulture. Such diversity has been an asset as the classroom commingles with the real world.

Christopher Bragdon, executive director of BILD, has worked closely with Lewis and the class this semester. "Chris watched this thing evolve day by day," Lewis said. "We are fortunate to be working with him because he is real client, with real projects, and real funding sources."

"And real expectations and cutting no slack," added Bragdon with a laugh.

"The idea is to give the students opportunities to be engaged in producing project proposals that will stand up to the test of scrutiny for international funding agencies," Lewis said. "They are personally invested. They have their own website. They have their own internal organization. This isn't a made-up project."

Of the obstacles Bosnia faces as it moves toward membership within the European Union, PfP focused on challenges in secondary school enrollment and tertiary matriculation.

"The education system in Bosnia is seeking to provide students with the necessary skills and capabilities to enhance domestic civic engagement and compete globally, both professionally and academically," explained Anne Park, co-project manager for the TSI project and a first-year CIPA student focusing on international development. "It is crucial to introduce innovative educational methodologies which will prepare students to access opportunities both in Bosnia and in other parts of Europe. More importantly there is a need for enhanced English language and computer skills."

NISC will provide students and professionals with a facility equipped with forty computer stations, business center, café, and conference room. "They already have a building committed to it, and students have prepared preliminary layouts," Lewis said.

Although NISC services can be purchased, this project encourages young people to earn credits for using the facility through community service activities.

"There is nothing else on this planet that combines all the components of NISC. Professor Lewis's students had to start from scratch," said Bragdon.

The TSI will offer an intensive four-week program to prepare students for university education, professional careers, and civic engagement. It will concentrate on English, computer, and professional development skills. English Language Fellows from the US Embassy in Bosnia will help develop the curriculum and will be paired with Bosnian co-teachers. Additional instructors will come from Cornell University graduate programs.

TSI will be taught through the Tuzla Muftiate. While the Islamic high school will house TSl, the program will serve a diverse student body. Mufti Husein Kavazovic, who visited Cornell last spring and spoke at the CIPA colloquium, "is absolutely committed to honesty, transparency, and academic excellence," said Lewis.

Janet Miller, public affairs officer for the US Embassy in Bosnia, said the students provided a "very thorough and thoughtful proposal." She, along with Bragdon, Lewis, and Antonia Rosenbaum of SEEDS, participated in a post-presentation discussion on funding and recruitment challenges.

Bragdon, pleased with the progress of the proposals thus far, said, "I've lived in Tuzla for 12 years on and off, and in these proposals I'm learning things about Tuzla I never knew. The research they have done to back these projects up has been exceptional, and we will be benefiting greatly from this project."

By Michael Paul Simons

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