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  July 30, 2001

International Training Program
Boosts Managers' Skills Around the World

On the coast of East Africa, a cadre of senior government workers owe their management training to an international program at UConn.

During the past five years, Tanzanian government managers, national insurance executives and auditors have been trained by faculty from the Institute of Public Service International, part of the University's Office of International Affairs. Some Tanzanian officials have traveled to the United States, to the Institute's modest offices on the Hartford campus; others were trained in their own country by senior Institute faculty.

Since 1996, the Institute has trained 400 Tanzanians, said Gerald F. Murphy, the Institute's senior faculty member and training coordinator.

Finnie Urassa was one of the first.

After being promoted to human resources manager at the National Insurance Corp., Urassa's first job was to develop a company-wide training policy and oversee training for 14 staff members.

In 1996, she came to Connecticut, where she completed a one-month program at the Institute, taking classes in human resources management and training design. When she returned to Tanzania, she wrote a comprehensive training manual for all employees.

"The program was marvelous," Urassa said in a recent phone conversation from her office in Dar es Salaam. "I was very much impressed by the faculty that I recommended we invite them here to conduct training."

Besides honing her management skills, Urassa gained renewed confidence from the Institute's program.

She was recently elected to the board of directors of a bank. She said her training at IPSI helped her to speak convincingly for her candidacy before 11,000 shareholders.

"The course gave me the courage to seek election," she said.

Skills and Confidence
From specific training classes designed to suit individual needs to general business management practices, the 40-year-old Institute has provided tools and training to more than 8,500 government officials and private business managers from 130 countries around the world.

Often participants leave with specific action plans: writing a new training manual, for instance, or implementing job descriptions for all departments.

But there is a greater, more intangible benefit from their involvement in the Institute, said Murphy.

"More than any one thing, our participants go back with a new confidence," he said. "There is a can-do feeling that they can solve problems, that they understand the big picture of why things are done."

Each year, an average of 250 to 300 officials come to the Hartford campus for training, the vast majority from Africa and Asia. The Institute runs one-month and two-month courses, usually taught in English. In July, there is a one-month seminar conducted in French. In November, the Institute's director, Momar Ndiaye, who is originally from Senegal, leads a one-month training course in his home country.

The learning experience has been a two-way path, Ndiaye said: "We tend to think everyone thinks the way we do. But it isn't true."

Ndiaye, who holds a doctorate from UConn, has done research on public and comparative management, policy analysis, decentralization and governance.

With participants from a wide range of cultures and religions, Ndiaye said, he has gained respect and understanding for different practices. For example, in Saudi Arabia, the notion of profit goes against the principles of Islam, the dominant religion. Banks cannot expect gains from customers' investments and must justify all "charges."

Murphy said he often has to serve as translator of American customs for the Institute's participants. There are plenty of cultural differences that he tries to explain, such as the laws against smoking in public buildings or the custom that shocks many men from Islamic countries: the sparse dress style of American women.

A Broader Perspective
Since it opened in 1961, the Institute has emphasized groups of international managers participating in programs together. Some have never left their country before, and being in the U.S. has given them a new, wider perspective.

That was the case for participant Aziz Almohimeed, a young assistant manager for one of the largest construction companies in the Middle East.

He has now decided to pursue a master's degree in business administrati on at UConn and hopes to transfer his Institute courses as credit. Besides the training he has received in computer software, Almohimeed said he has gained contacts with participants from Malawi, Ethiopia and Ghana.

"You meet people from different countries and they have different approaches," he said. "It is fascinating."

A small green guest book in the Institute's office boasts ministers, mayors, princes and principals from around the world. Scores of leaders in developing nations have honed their managerial skills through the Institute's faculty.

Even the Institute's faculty has roots abroad. Alberto D. Pena, an associate extension professor, was born in the Philippines. He often finds himself addressing a group of peers or elders, senior managers in their governments or companies.

Explaining the need to learn the methods of cost-effectiveness analysis to a recent class, Pena spoke of himself as part of the group. "We come from developing countries," he said, "where there is not an overabundance of resources."

Pena urged the participants to ask questions during his lecture. In three days, he said, he would cover material that could take as long as a semester.

"We'll be going at 100 mph," he joked. "Backwards or forward?" one student rejoined. The class erupted in laughter.

It was a needed break from the intense and serious international program, which interweaves theoretical business practices with case studies and practical solutions. The skills and tools often are used for years to come in newly independent and developing countries.

Financed primarily through the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Institute's annual $600,000 budget is entirely self-supported through fees and tuition, Murphy said. USAID pays the Institute on a per-student basis, through sponsor agencies in their countries and also gives participants cash for their living expenses.

The Institute has had a growing attendance since the 1960s, when many African countries achieved independence. Many of the new leaders had little formal education and often turned to American institutions for training.

Among the most popular programs for participants from all countries are a class on performance auditing, and one on project management.

Performance auditing, unlike financial auditing, looks beyond the books and budgets to the effectiveness of a company's overall operations.

The General Accounting Office offers an annual performance auditing class to 15 auditors from developing countries or newly formed democratic nations, but it cannot meet the demand.

Don Drach, assistant director at the GAO, said he often recommends the UConn program to government officials in developing countries.

"We get a lot of requests for training," he said. "We generally refer them to Gerry (Murphy's) program."

Meredith Carlson Daly

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