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Harvard MBAs Create A Youthful OpEd Site

Harvard MBA students (L-R) Fred Spring, Christina Sgardeli, Andrew Cedar, and Tewfik Cassis received their 5,000th website hit Sept. 25.

Four globally focused Harvard Business School students including a former White House national security director have launched an international news and opinion website aimed at young professionals. The group say they want to educate peers, broaden and deepen dialog about global affairs, and help prepare the next generation of leaders – rather than rake in piles of cash.

“HBS is a fairly apolitical place. I think you find that in a lot of business contexts,” says co-founder Andrew Cedar, formerly a senior director for global engagement on the National Security Council’s White House staff, and earlier, a business analyst for McKinsey & Company. “There was a huge untapped interest in talking about these issues. What we saw was a sort of hungering for something deeper.”

COVERAGE SO FAR INCLUDES LIBYA, BRAZIL, FIJI

So far, the content on opedspace.com includes a two-writer argument by a Council on Foreign Relations fellow and a former U.S. diplomat that Libya’s disintegration threatens the U.S. more than the crisis in Iraq; a contention by an HBS MBA candidate that Brazilian presidential candidate Marina Silva’s mixing of socialist policies with investment-friendly economics holds hope for the country’s “abysmal productivity growth;” and an exposition by an MS candidate from Birkbeck University in London of racism, coups, and an election in Fiji.

“We want to spark interest in people who might not otherwise be interested in these topics,” says co-founder Tewfik Cassis, a former head of business development for a Silicon Valley educational toy company and business analyst for McKinsey in Dubai.

A first-year HBS class last year – Business, Government and the International Economy – brought the four together, leading to discussions about global issues and the plan to create an online forum.

They launched their site Sept. 8 and on Sept. 25 it topped the 5,000-hit mark, with readership in 40 countries, the founders say.

HBS ENVIRONMENT FULL OF USEFUL EXPERTISE

Harvard b-school provided an environment full of inspiration, ideas, and assistance, says co-founder Fred Spring, a former management consultant in London and policy adviser in the UK government. “We’ve been speaking with a lot of people who have either been in the startup field or been involved in media,” says Spring, who has a BA in philosophy and Russian from Oxford University. “It’s very peer to peer based.”

However, they’re seeking diversity among contributors, to avoid being pigeon-holed into an HBS niche, and have articles in the pipeline from writers at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. “We don’t want to alienate people by being too close to a single institution,” says Cassis, who holds a BS in management science from MIT.

For their target readership, they’ve set their sights on young professionals because “as cheesy as it sounds” many in that demographic are leaders of the future, who need to understand international affairs when making investment decisions at multinational corporations, or deciding which markets to enter, or working in global politics, says Cassis.

The group’s mission statement says they created their digital forum “for young professionals and students to express their views on the entrenched and seemingly intractable challenges that the world faces.”

“It won’t solve these issues but it will definitely increase global education,” says Spring, who has a BA in political science from Yale University and a master of philosophy degree from the University of Cambridge in the U.K.

VOICES FOR THE WELL-INFORMED BUT VOICELESS

Their contributors, too, are young professionals and graduate students – people holding well-informed opinions but having few outlets for expressing them, Cedar says.

The group steers writers away from covering inflammatory subjects such as the Arab/Israeli conflict, he says. “There are certain topics which just devolve into people not listening to each other,” Cedar says.

They are  quite willing to publish opinions counter to their own, they say. “We want to get things out there and start this debate,” Cedar says. “We don’t want to be too heavy handed.” Contributors are expected to check their facts, but the group obtains writers’ information sources to help insure accuracy, Cassis says.

Although they intend to provide a deeper level of discussion about global affairs than typically plays out on social media, they’re using Facebook as a primary distribution channel.

PROFIT MOTIVE ABSENT FROM THE ENDEAVOR

Profiteering plays no role in the project, the group say. “You don’t go into something like this because you want to make money,” Cedar says. “If you’re trying to make a quick buck, I don’t think this is the forum to do it.”

Still, they’re debating whether they’ll need to monetize the website so it can continue once they pass the baton. “We’d like to make this sustainable,” Cassis says. “This should always be dominated by young professionals. We’re looking for the next generation to take this on, hopefully across institutions, across schools.”

The fourth member of the group, Christina Sgardeli, has worked for Morgan Stanley in New York, interned at the European Parliament in Brussels, and has master’s degrees in engineering from MIT and Imperial College London, plus an MS in financial economics from Oxford.

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