With $25M Gift, Thunderbird Launches Global Initiative To Educate 100 Million By 2030

Thunderbird Dean Sanjeev Khagram celebrates the launch of the 100 million learners global initiative with Francis and Dionne Najafi. The initiative, made possible by a $25 million donation from the Najafis, will educate and empower 100 million learners by 2030, with 70% of them women. <span style="font-weight: 400;">Photo courtesy of Thunderbird School of Global Management at ASU.</span>

Thunderbird Dean Sanjeev Khagram celebrates the launch of the 100 million learners global initiative with Francis and Dionne Najafi. The initiative, made possible by a $25 million donation from the Najafis, will educate and empower 100 million learners by 2030, with 70% of them women. Photo courtesy of Thunderbird School of Global Management at ASU.

With an “historic $25 million donation,” Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School of Global Management today (January 20) announced the launch of a one-of-a-kind global initiative to bring world-class business education to 100 million learners around the world by the year 2030. Seventy percent of them will be women.

The Francis and Dionne Najafi Global Initiative will create an online certificate in Global Management and Entrepreneurship aimed at underserved communities around the globe. It will work to advance Thunderbird’s vision of a “world of sustainable and equitable prosperity and peace,” says Sanjeev Khagram, director general and dean of Thunderbird School.

“The mission is that we are going to educate, empower and influence a new generation of global leaders, managers and professionals for the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” Khagram tells Poets&Quants.


Two Thunderbird alumni, Francis and Dionne Najafi, donated $25 million to launch the initiative, the largest gift since Thunderbird joined ASU.  Francis Najafi is founder of Pivotal Group, a real estate investment firm and part owner of the Phoenix Suns. He is a ‘77 alum of Thunderbird while his wife, Dionne, is an ‘06 alum.

“Our lives were transformed by our experience at Thunderbird and we wanted to extend that same transformative experience to people around the world who don’t have the opportunity to access this world-class education,” the Najafis say in a press release. “We are excited and deeply humbled to be part of such a bold initiative.”

Today’s announcement was timed to coincide with the World Economic Forum’s State of the World sessions, which were scheduled for January 17-21 in Davos, Switzerland, but were postponed until this summer because of the omicron outbreak. (You can still tune into live panel discussions on the forum’s website here.)


Sanjeev Khagram. Thunderbird photo

Sanjeev Khagram

Khagram joined Thunderbird in 2018 after a call from Arizona State University’s president Michael Crow which acquired Thunderbird in 2014. In his three years at the school, Khagram has overseen what he believes to be the greatest school turnaround in higher education history – doubling its enrollment, raising more than $80 million in gifts, and launching or transforming 10 new degree programs aimed at creating global leaders. (Poets&Quants will dive deeper into this turnaround with a special feature this spring to coincide with the school’s 75th anniversary.) 

“Given my background as an entrepreneur and in tech, and what was happening in the world amidst this industrial revolution, I said we have to reclaim not only being the most global leadership management business school in the world, but we have to be the most digital and technological,” Khagram tells P&Q.

This initiative speaks to these lofty goals. First and foremost, Thunderbird will offer an accredited online Global Management and Entrepreneurship Certificate at no cost to the student. The certificate will include five courses developed and taught by Thunderbird faculty: (1) Global Leadership in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, (2) Customer Experience and Digital Marketing in a Global World, (3) Global Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Business, (4) Data Analytics and Digital Transformation in a Global World, and (5) Global Financial Accounting.

Completion of all five courses is equivalent to 15 credit hours which can be applied toward completion of degrees at Thunderbird, ASU, or universities around the world. The first course will launch on April 8 to coincide with the school’s anniversary celebration and the grand opening of its new $85 million building in downtown Phoenix: The F. Francis and Dionne Najafi Thunderbird Global Headquarters. 


The initiative’s purpose is to “provide accessible world-class business and entrepreneurship education to underserved communities around the world” at no cost to the student, according to the initiative fact sheet. These communities include an estimated 220 million under or unemployed workers, 26 million refugees, and people who need to upskill in order to stay competitive in a world economy changing at hyper speed. 

The Thunderbird School will roll out the initiative in a strategic, phased approach:

  • Year one: The initiative will begin by targeting learners in Iran, Kenya, Mexico, Indonesia, Egypt, India, Senegal, Brazil, and Vietnam.
  • Year two: Expand to countries in  Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America.
  • By year four: Expand to learners in Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States.
  • Beyond year four: The initiative will be available around the world, eventually reaching the goal of 100 million learners.

    The F. Francis and Dionne Najafi Thunderbird Global Headquarters

    Overlook of the Global Forum of the new The F. Francis and Dionne Najafi Thunderbird Global Headquarters in Phoenix. Thunderbird photo.

Once courses are built, they’ll be translated into nearly 40 different languages by a unique Google engine built purposefully for this initiative. Courses will then be taught by instructors proficient in the learners’ native languages including: Arabic, Bengali, Burmese, Czech, Dutch, Farsi, French, German, Gujarati, Hausa, Hindi, Hungarian, Indonesian (Bahasa), Italian, Japanese, Javanese, Kazakh, Kinyarwanda, Korean, Malay, Mandarin Chinese (Simplified), Mandarin Chinese (Traditional), Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Spanish, Swahili, Swedish, Tagalog, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, Urdu, Uzbek, Vietnamese, Yoruba, and Zulu.

To reach its ambitious aims, Thunderbird will leverage its expanding global network including  50,000 alumni in more than 100 countries and a growing list of 16 Centers of Excellence around the world. 


ASU measures success by whom it is able to include in its mission and vision, Khagram says. “This initiative will enable ASU and Thunderbird to provide quality higher education to people from all over the globe and advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4, Quality Education for all.” 

The UN estimates that COVID-19 has erased 20 years worth of educational gains worldwide while technological disruption has displaced millions of workers who need either upskilling or reskilling to make a living. UN’s development goals also hope to eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access for women in higher education and vocational training. To this end, 70% of participants in the Francis and Dionne Najafi Global Initiative will be women. 

“Access to higher education and the need for equity and inclusion is one of a global scale. One of the reasons Arizona State University is so pleased to have Thunderbird as part of our enterprise is because it is a school that has been focused on sustained prosperity worldwide for decades,” says Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University. 

“The commitment made to the school by Francis and Dionne Najafi will impact communities around the world and be a force that brings all of us closer together. We are grateful for their commitment to a borderless expansion of the opportunities that come with higher education.” 

Learn more about Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School of Global Management here.


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.