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Professor to bring family's Nobel Peace Prize legacy to DSU

Ibrahim.jpg
Ujal Ibrahim, Dickinson State University's new assistant professor of business and advisor for the North Dakota Small Business Development Center, worked in Bangladesh with Grameen Bank, the first micro-credit bank. (Kayla Henson / The Dickinson Press)

A new assistant professor of business, Ujal Ibrahim, is aiming to bring his global experience in social entrepreneurship, learned in part from his Nobel Peace Prize winning uncle, to Dickinson State University.

Ibrahim went to college and graduate school in the U.S. and is relocating to Dickinson from Salt Lake City, Utah, where he received his doctorate from the University of Utah.

He was raised in Bangladesh, where he became interested in social entrepreneurship, which uses business to address social needs.

"I always thought (about) how I could give back … to the community, to those who need the support. How can I be of some use to people?" Ibrahim said.

After earning a degree, he went back to Bangladesh and worked as a faculty member in the business school for four years. At the same time, he worked with his uncle, 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Muhammad Yunus, who created the Grameen Bank, which provides small loans for people in Bangladesh to start their own businesses. Ibrahim said it started in the villages with poor women who had skills such as pottery-making and weaving

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"A huge population did not have any access to credit, so micro credit is a no-collateral loan. It’s based on trust," he said.

Ibrahim taught his students about social entrepreneurship, about how they could use business to solve problems.

"The idea is you create business to solve social problems, unlike traditional businesses which (are) exclusively profit-oriented," he said.

Ibrahim believes that business is a sustainable way to lift people out of poverty and address other social problems, such as malnutrition.

"Here you’re investing, and there’s a return on investment. … Non-profits are wonderful; charities are wonderful … but these are one-time donations … the money is not coming back. … The beauty of businesses is the sustainability piece. A successful business will go on, on its own," he said.

Social business owners aim to make their products affordable to their target audience.

"Let’s say you’re addressing a nutrition issue, so you (sell) yogurt that’s helping to get a bunch of children out of malnutrition," Ibrahim said. "Maybe that’s your objective. Of course, you make money in the process because it’s a business. It’s not a charity. But you should design the plan in such a way that it’s basically a win-win, meaning you earn the money that you need, but at the same time, your purpose is served as well; they can afford the yogurt."

In social business, profit is not the objective.

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"You don’t take profit in social business. The investors get the invested money back, people who are involved with the business definitely get paid regular market wage, but you don’t take dividends unlike regular businesses … The profit is reinvested in the company," Ibrahim said.

The Grameen Bank now has more than 9 million borrowers and replicas of it now exist in over 100 countries.

"(Yunus) generated the idea and the application of micro credit, and now it’s all over the world. That helped me realize that if you want to do something good, something meaningful, something that helps people, it doesn’t have to be huge at the beginning. It can be very small, and you can scale up, and it can be replicated," Ibrahim said.

He wants to teach and be involved in the entrepreneurship community, like he was in Bangladesh. He wants to provide students with hand-on learning experiences. He believes he found that opportunity with DSU. In addition to being an assistant professor of business for the university, Ibrahim will also be an adviser for the North Dakota Small Business Development Center, which has its Dickinson office at DSU. The center supports entrepreneurs, providing help with training and financing.

"If you see my designation, you’ll see that I’m assistant professor plus I’m an adviser for the North Dakota SBDC, so on one hand, I’m teaching; on the other hand, I’m actually working with the entrepreneurs," Ibrahim said. "The university is very involved with SBDC … so the university had a mindset of not only the classroom education, but also the practical. A lot of times you’ll see challenges. We perhaps study something in the class and then when we are in the real field, we may see some gaps. This approach would really help us faculty members, plus the students, to bridge (the gap). I thought that’s a wonderful initiative, great mindset that we need, so that was very exciting for me."

Kayla Henson is a former Dickinson Press reporter.
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