Blog: Interview with Dave Garten on the Entrepreneurial Leadership Program
Author: Rebecca Freedman
Posted: May 2, 2016

Interview with Dave Garten on the Entrepreneurial Leadership Program

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My interview with Dave Garten was succinct, much like the way he prefers his business briefs to be structured. The instructor of core Portland State MBA courses and Director of the MBA Capstone Consulting program had just returned from a flight back from Tajikistan, where he had taken part in the 2016 Entrepreneurial Leadership Program.

After having taken both of his strategy courses, spending two weeks with him in Brazil on the International Experience trip, and having him as my capstone advisor, I feel like I know Dave fairly well. I know much about his sons, who he is extremely proud of, about his dedication to bicycling, and about his interest in applying his vast knowledge in strategy and business development to mission based innovation in social and environmental responsibility.

The Entrepreneurial Leadership Program (ELP) falls under the latter of his interests. First launched with Mercy Corps in 2009 in partnership with Impact Entrepreneurs, the ELP kicks off a joint Portland State University and Mercy Corps certificate program that trains Mercy Corps employees from all over the world with MBA-derived curriculum in nonprofit business management.

Dave, can you give me a little bit of background on the ELP?

The program was conceived 8 years ago by Carolyn McKnight and Mercy Corps executives. This is my third year of involvement.

Mercy Corps uses the program to education and train their next team of leadership. The ELP is a year long program for a cohort of about 30 incoming employees to Mercy Corps per year. The candidates must apply and then be nominated for the program. From these, Mercy Corps recruits the next generation of leaders from all over the world. Once the cohort is assembled, the kick off is a 3 week program that can be hosted anywhere across the globe.

Of course there are criteria for the locations; we always try to pick places that visas allow people to come from any country, we want a host country manager that wants to host, and the location should be logistically simple. In the case of Tajikistan this year, the first two criteria were met, but it certainly was not easy to get to.

How is the program structured and what do students take away?

Curriculum is a hybrid currently borrowed from what the Portland State MBAs go through; we integrate finance with leadership to provide training on financial and development strategy.

Participants come to the program with a defined problem from their country of origin, pitch their ideas, and then the team selects six to address. The students split into groups and self-select their project. From there, we decide on the curriculum that best matches the problems that are to be solved and map out a business plan.

The culmination is a pitch of the business plan to a panel of locals. This year was particularly exciting as the panel included the head of World Bank of Tajikistan, the head of a microfinance bank, the head of an NGO, and the head of the local Mercy Corps division.

What got you involved in this program?

For me, this is another chapter of applying business experience in a social cause. My interest has long been in mission driven application of business strategy and this fits the bill.

Mercy Corps does amazing work in dangerous places. The participants in this program are very talented and motivated, much like MBAs, but have grown up in a different place. For us to share our experiences, we are all gaining something. It is very much a two-way experience.

What makes these experiences most valuable for you?

Much like the Portland State International Experience, there is also value in just experiencing a new place. Tajikistan is not a developed place, it looks ex-soviet and foreign, yet people are really warm and it surprisingly is also very safe.

Again, like the International Experience, groups of people in a foreign place give the opportunity to develop a handful of close relationships. With ELP, there is the additional benefit of learning so much about certain places and people. This year I got to know a Muslim woman from Yemen really well. It was unique and incredibly valuable to learn about her situation and background.

>> Learn more about Portland State leadership programs here.

>> Learn about the International Experience here.


Rebecca Freedman is a second year MBA student at Portland State and is spending her summer interning at LifeMap of Cambia Health Solutions, applying her creative and analytical talents to their website redesign. Rebecca is pivoting from a paralegal background into a career in digital marketing and communications. You can connect with Rebecca on LinkedIn and prospective students may also contact her through the Graduate Business Programs Ambassador Portal.