IBS Gets Experiential in Cuba

In February Brandeis International Business School (IBS) made history when it sent 30 master’s and M.B.A. candidates to Cuba for a hands-on look at the inner workings of an economy in transition.

Trip attendees visited tobacco farms and farmers’ markets, exchanged ideas with the economics department at the University of Havana, and became the first U.S. business school to connect with Cuba’s new M.B.A. program run by Spain’s Catholic University Saint Anthony of Murcia.

The visit was made possible by Brandeis IBS’ new Hassenfeld Fellow Overseas Immersion Program, funded by retired Hasbro Chairman and CEO Alan Hassenfeld, who attended the program alongside IBS Dean Bruce Magid and three professors. The program’s inaugural trip to Turkey last summer was so popular that over 100 students applied for spots on February’s excursion.

The Hassenfeld Fellows studied Cuba in a winter module with Alfonso Canella, a Cuban-born IBS senior lecturer who hadn’t stepped foot in his homeland in nearly 50 years. Cuba proved an especially interesting case study given recent laws allowing citizens to start small businesses, and buy and sell cars and real estate.

“This is clearly a country on the cusp of economic change,” says Gonzalo Montes Viguera, M.A. ’12. “Walking through the streets and talking to locals, you can feel it in the air.”

Particularly enlightening was the visit with the M.B.A. program, which was started this past fall in the hopes of giving Cubans skills to launch and operate new businesses. “It was fascinating to get Cuban students’ perspectives on recent developments,” says Nihan Celiktas, M.B.A. ’12. “We saw a bit of everything on the trip, which helped provide us with the whole picture.”

Students also donated medical supplies, visited Havana’s Ernest Hemingway Museum, and took salsa-dancing lessons.

“The trip went far above and beyond any of our expectations,” says Hassenfeld.” Students got the chance to exchange ideas with their peers in Cuba and partake in an extraordinary, truly experiential education.”

 — Adam Conner-Simons