The Economist, Apr 17th 2012
CROSS-BORDER collaboration between business schools is a common occurrence. Some top institutions can have partnerships with counterparts in as many as 40 different countries. It is seen as a way of increasing their internationalism, without having to run programmes overseas, which can be expensive. It gives faculty and students a chance to expose themselves to a foreign business culture through exchanges, and for schools to boast about their global footprint on their websites.
Still, the announcement this week that the Indian School of Business (ISB) in Hyderabad has signed a memorandum of understanding with Pakistan’s Institute of Business Administration (IBA), based in Karachi, is important.
The scope of the proposed collaboration is small—ISB will offer short, non-degree executive programmes on the IBA campus—but it is rare to find Indian and Pakistani institutions working together in this way. Indeed, Deepak Chandra, ISB’s deputy dean, says that he knows of no other example of schools from the two countries working together like this.
Mr Chandra says that he sees the benefits of collaboration coming in “visible” and “invisible” forms. The visible form will see ISB helping to train leaders to work in the sectors that can make a real difference to the Pakistani economy, such as healthcare, infrastructure, manufacturing and small- and medium-sized businesses. It will also offer courses on entrepreneurship.
But there are also loftier ambitions. While Mr Chandra says he is not naive enough to think that collaboration will in itself thaw relations between two warring countries, he does see it as a small step. “On the invisible side is an understanding that the two countries are working towards a better relationship and [that] business relationships are an important part of that.”
Governments on both sides of the border, says Mr Chandra, have been keen that the two schools get together. It fits into a broader strategy. Ministers have been talking up the possibility of closer economic ties. Last week the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh and Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari (both pictured), met privately to shore up relations. Pakistan has said it will grant India most-favoured nation status by the end of the year, making it easier for the two countries to trade.
“The important thing is that ultimately we want the two countries to work together,” says Mr Chandra. “And our two schools can contribute to that agenda.” The nature of the countries’ relationship suggests that it will not be straightforward. But baby steps are better than no steps at all.