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Helping women help themselves

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  • New scheme launched to bring business education to women
  • Top schools teaming up with institutions in Afghanistan and elsewhere
  • Aim is to teach 10,000 women in developing countries
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By Peter Walker for CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- A series of leading business schools have joined forces for a new project that aims to assist students a world away from the stereotypical privileged, male MBA student -- ordinary women in developing countries.

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Women in Afghanistan are among those to be offered the programs.

The project, titled 10,000 Women, plans to give precisely that number of women in countries ranging from Afghanistan to Egypt and Kenya a business education, anything from a short-term program lasting a few weeks to a full MBA.

Among the schools involved are Wharton, Columbia and Harvard -- three of the top five MBA providers in the world, according to the new Financial Times rankings -- as well as the University of Cape Town's business school in South Africa and the UK's Judge school, part of Cambridge University.

Institutions involved in developing economies include the American University of Afghanistan, its sister institution in Cairo, Egypt, and the School of Finance and Banking in Rwanda, central Africa.

The emphasis of the partnerships is on "pragmatic, flexible and shorter term programs," allowing women traditionally shut out of traditional business education to study for management certificates. A smaller number of women will also be able to study for MBA and BA degrees.

In addition to funding tuition for business and management education, 10,000 Women will work with development organizations to understand challenges faced by girls and young women in making the most of economic opportunities.

Under the scheme, the Arizona-based Thunderbird School of Management is teaming up with the American University of Afghanistan to bring an entrepreneurship program to women, with an initial aim to teaching 60 students in the first year.

The programs will be delivered in eight-week intervals or over the course of several weekends for a total of 40 hours of classroom instruction per group. While courses will be taught in Kabul, they will be promoted elsewhere in the hope of getting at least one class with women who commute for weekend programs.

The intention was simple, said Dr. Angel Cabrera, president of Thunderbird - to "change lives and create lasting benefit."

Fact Box

FT MBA Rankings
1. Wharton, U.S.
2. London Business School, UK
3. Columbia, U.S.
4. Stanford GSB, U.S.
5. Harvard, U.S.
6. Insead, France/Singapore
7. MIT: Sloan, U.S.
8. IE Business School, Spain
9. University of Chicago GSB, U.S.
10. University of Cambridge: Judge, UK
Source: Financial Times 2008

"Investing in the education and economic empowerment of women in developing countries not only improves the lives of the women themselves, but enriches the entire community and contributes to the sustainable prosperity of those countries as a whole," she said.

The scheme is being planned and financed by investment bank Goldman Sachs. The bank has a charitable arm, but it stresses that the project is not mere blind philanthropy.

According to a Goldman Sachs research study into women's participation in the economic life of a developing countries, it brings lasting benefits to the entire nation, not just the women involved.

Narrowing current gender gaps in employment could increase income per capita in some emerging economies by anything from 10 percent to 14 percent above forecasts by 2020, the bank's researchers estimate.

Women's economic empowerment is "a critical, yet often overlooked area," said Lloyd C. Blankfein, the bank's chairman and CEO.

"Those of us who champion open markets must also do our part to create more opportunity to ensure economic growth is more broadly shared." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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