May 27, 2003 – If the government officials of the nation's insular territories can't come up with solutions to their islands' economic problems, maybe some graduate students from one of the nation's most prestigious business schools can help.
Under a new program announced Tuesday in Washington, D.C., six students pursuing their master of business administration degrees at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania will conduct field research this summer studying the territories' economic ills.
The Wharton-Island Fellowship Program is a collaboration of the Wharton School and the U.S. Department of Interior's Office of Insular Affairs.
The six students arrived in the nation's capital on Tuesday and will fan out in June to American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the Virgin Islands for two weeks of research, according to an Interior Department release. Then they will reassemble in Washington to present their findings to Interior Secretary Gale Norton.
The Wharton-Island Fellows will work with the private sector, local governments and federal agencies to identify ways to stimulate the economic growth of the islands. Potential targeted investment areas include e-commerce, telecommunications, health care, tourism, solid waste and wastewater treatment, and privatization of government services.
"The Office of Insular Affairs will use the group's work to prepare for an investment development conference for the territories to be hosted by Norton this fall," the release stated.
"We want to get the best young business minds to address the deep-seated problems of the territories," David Cohen, deputy assistant secretary of the Interior for insular affairs, said. "This program offers an opportunity for some of the best and brightest to take a fresh look at problems that many have been struggling with for years."
How well the program succeeds will depend on the interns' ability to quickly absorb and understand the island cultures, Cohen said. "This will not be a one-way street, where the students impart Wharton wisdom to the islands," he said. "The idea here is to combine Wharton wisdom and island wisdom in a harmonious fashion in order to find new approaches that work well within the context of island culture."
Ramona Jones, Cohen's special adviser for economic policy, said that Wharton MBA students "typically have a great deal of business experience before they get to Wharton." The first six fellows chosen for the islands project "have a wide variety of skills that will be extremely helpful to the islands," she said.
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