Professor's entrepreneur project aims to stem extremism in Pakistan

Sarfraz Mian.SUNY Oswego’s Sarfraz Mian sees a future for Pakistan without extremist violence like the two suicide bombings March 12 that killed 45 people on their way to Friday afternoon congregational prayers in Lahore, the city of Mian’s birth.

The School of Business professor believes one key to an era of prosperity and peace for Pakistan is small business—more specifically, encouraging entrepreneurism through education, aid and innovation.

“It really is a matter of national security—Pakistan’s and ours,” Mian said. “The empty mind is the devil’s workshop. If young Pakistanis have useful skills, they can work to develop their own businesses.”

Mian, an expert in strategic management and entrepreneurship education who has taught at Oswego more than 18 years, leads a team of researchers who plan to survey more than 2,000 Pakistanis this summer about their entrepreneurial and small-business perceptions and aspirations. A companion study will seek out small-business and other policy experts in the country, a longtime ally of the United States that abuts Afghanistan and Iran.

The surveys in Pakistan will come as the parent organization, the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, expands to 60 countries. GEM, a not-for-profit academic research consortium, says it makes high-quality data available in the largest study of entrepreneurial activity in the world.

Building expertise

Mian’s goal of improved business education for his native land did not begin with his recent GEM appointment. The professor, whose mother still lives in Pakistan, has made trips at least every two years to lobby government officials, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the World Bank and top universities around the country.

He says it is essential to lend and build expertise for the nation’s top business schools in Karachi, the largest city, in the south; Islamabad, the capital, in the north; and Lahore, a historic city, in the northeast.

“We must teach the practical things. We must teach the useful things,” Mian said. “We need to say to the youth, ‘Help yourselves and help the world.’”

Besides his role as principal investigator for GEM, Mian has served as adviser to Lahore University of Management Sciences. He is also a founding member of the North American Innovation Research Network, guest editor of the International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Management and editor and co-author of a forthcoming book, “Science and Technology Based Regional Entrepreneurship: Global Experience in Policy and Program Development.”

In country after country, Mian said, building small business and the entrepreneurial spirit has led to improvements in national economic health. He points to homegrown Pakistani businesses like NetSol Technologies Inc., now a multinational developer of information management systems for health care and many other industries, which trades on the NASDAQ and Dubai exchanges.

Global impact

SUNY Oswego would see benefits from Mian’s work as well. “It means that we would have a larger international presence in global entrepreneurship,” said Richard Skolnik, dean of the School of Business, who said Mian is the incoming chair of the marketing and management department.

Mian, who foresees exchange programs between Oswego and Pakistan’s business schools, said the violence in his native country troubles him deeply. It has become clear how strategically important the country is in the Middle East, he said.

“Pakistan is very much in the limelight now,” he said. “I want to help youth get educated, get employed and help them learn self-sufficiency. They will see that extremism is not the way.”

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(Posted: Mar 17, 2010)

Tags: research news: faculty projects