Two University of Idaho professors, Harley Johansen and Michele O'Neill, have landed a $20,000 U.S. State Department grant to investigate how ethnicity plays into the development of businesses in the southeastern European and former communist country of Macedonia.
Macedonia is a mountainous, landlocked republic on the Balkan peninsula and is bordered by Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, Kosovo, and Albania. It's roughly the size of Delaware and has a population of a little over 2 million people, about one-fourth of whom live in the capital city of Skopje.
It gained its independence peacefully from Yugoslavia in 1991, but remains a developing economy that endured civil conflict in 2001 and still is struggling to break free from its socialist roots and become a member of the European Union, says Johansen, who heads the UI geography department on the school's campus in Moscow. One of its biggest hurdles is overcoming ongoing ethnic tensions, because the country's population is split largely between Macedonians and Albanians, whose cultures differ dramatically, he says.
He and O'Neill, a professor of finance, will travel to the country in June to study whether ethnic integration is occurring in businesses and to what degree that integration is linked to other characteristics, such as business size, location, sector, and specialty. The overall purpose of the project is to learn how economic progress might help reduce ethnic tensions, and how certain businesses and their employees view ethnicity in today's working environment there.
Several years ago, Johansen, O'Neill, and a now-retired UI faculty member helped set up an entrepreneurially focused business school in Skopje, modeled after a UI curriculum, and O'Neill taught at the school in the fall of 2007. The curriculum integrates business and geographic information system (GIS) studies to help students learn how to start and operate a business and to identify the best possible locations for it, Johansen says.
Now, a group of seven UI students is raising funds with plans to head there, also this spring, for a project at the school that will involve doing undercover research and consumer reports for local businesses, while gaining knowledge about international business.
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