Where LEADER started:
In 1991, two Western Masters of Business Administration (MBA) students and a Western Honours of Business Administration (HBA) student, Scott Hellofs, Paul Fitzgerald, and Chris Albinson respectively, initiated Project USSR (as the LEADER project was then called) to respond to the challenges in the Former Soviet Union. The students approached Professor Paul Beamish, Director of the Western Business School's Centre for International Business Studies (CIBS), for financial support and advice.
Beamish established a number of criteria for the project, in that it should provide students with opportunities which complemented the business school's existing exchange programs, be administered and run by students, and have a full-time faculty advisor. Beamish also stressed that the program be large enough to be worth the School's efforts, yet modest enough to be sustainable. Growth, if it did occur, should take place slowly.
See Chris Albinson’s look back here.
In its pilot year, 26 volunteers began case writing and teaching to 175 students. The project generated widespread, positive reaction in many countries. It was the subject of numerous media articles involving interviews with Western participants, and generated opportunities for some participants to undertake entrepreneurial ventures or consulting in the Former Soviet Union.
By 1992, the project expanded its partnerships to include Minsk, Belarus and Vilnius, Lithuania. Throughout the 1990s, the LEADER project would continue to slowly expand into countries like the Ukraine, Moldova and even Mongolia.
By 1994, The project had expanded to 7 sites and 44 teachers.
Throughout the 1990’s LEADER course approach was unique for Eastern Europeans and the curriculum was loosely modeled after Western's undergraduate Introduction to Business course. Language was a considerable barrier for students and instructors and each teaching team was assigned a translator who was hired by the local partner.
Throughout the program, students would gain knowledge of finance, marketing and general management - all the skills they needed to know in order to know how to run a business. By 1995, the program led up to a final project, which involved completing a business plan. Students would earn a certificate of accomplishment for their successful participation.
See David Wood’s look back of LEADER in 1997 here.
With the Russian economy transforming into a free market system, LEADER looked to broaden its scope and identify new opportunities abroad to create impact. With a new mission to instill an entrepreneurial culture around the world, and give communities the tools they need to create self-sustaining businesses, LEADER rebrands itself into "Leading Education and Development in Emerging Regions" - a brand that still persists today.
The contents of the LEADER teaching program shifted to a focus on entrepreneurship. The course still taught business fundamentals through the case method, but now over the course of only two weeks. Through a key partnership with the Pierre L. Morrissette Institute for Entrepreneurship at Ivey, LEADER's curriculum was bolstered to provide maximum value for students. The new focus on entrepreneurship has enabled LEADER to meet the current needs of the developing economies in which it taught. It also allowed the project to expand its audience to local, young entrepreneurs in the classroom, in addition to traditional university students.
In 2002, LEADER began to explore sites beyond Eastern Europe where it could make an impact. This led to a successful pilot project in Cuba. LEADER sent participants to three sites in Holguin, Las Tunas, and Bayamo.
LEADER continued to expand into Europe with new sites in additional cities in Moldova, Belarus and Russia.
In 2006, LEADER's Advisory Board began to play a bigger role in guiding LEADER's strategic direction. The Advisory Board consisted of past LEADER participants and people with strong experience in the host regions. As a result of these changes, LEADER student composition broadened to include HBAs and other degree programs at Ivey. By 2008, HBAs made up more than 50% of LEADER's participant base.
See Darwin Smith’s look back of LEADER in 2004 here.
See Mark Gilbert’s look back of LEADER in 2012 here.
LEADER continues to venture beyond its legacy in Eastern Europe. The project continues to extend its core curriculum to more effectively teach business fundamentals in an entrepreneurial context and adapt to each LEADER site.