September 15, 2013

Dharma deSilva works to aid Sri Lanka

Globalization isn’t a dirty word to Dharma deSilva.

Globalization isn’t a dirty word to Dharma deSilva.

DeSilva, a business professor at Wichita State University, is a native of Sri Lanka, the island nation south of India once known as Ceylon.

He has pushed international business education for Wichita students and Wichita businesses for decades. As chairman of the World Trade Council, he has lured ambassadors and trade officials from all over the world to Wichita to talk about how to trade with their countries.

And nearly every year since he left Sri Lanka for Wichita in 1976, deSilva has returned to his homeland to visit family and to keep up contacts with friends in government and academia. He is responsible for setting up the management studies program at the University of Sri Lanka in the 1960s.

In 2010, the government there asked him to study eight of the nation’s business schools, mostly in the capital of Colombo, and make recommendations on how to modernize them to make them more effective, given the trends of globalization.

That led to him to stay there for two and half months this summer on a Fulbright Senior Specialist grant to analyze the teaching practices at the schools. For the first time, many of the nation’s largest businesses were invited to gather with government and university officials to talk about how business students are taught. It was the first time that had ever happened, deSilva said. The business leaders’ biggest complaint: Business schools aren’t connected to them and don’t prepare students with the right skills.

“They were pretty critical,” he said. “They said the students lack communication skills, work ethic, understanding about the world environment, critical thinking. This is common, even here in the U.S. I wasn’t surprised.”

DeSilva will return in November to help reformulate business school curricula to fit with the needs of business, using metrics established by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.

At the moment he is on sabbatical from WSU, collecting material for a book he is writing based on his previous articles and papers on how management education needs to adapt to the new economy, where those in business deal constantly with those with other languages and cultures.

“We are in the midst of profound changes in socio-economic, political, technological, and, especially, cultural, ways of operating, where products are made in multiple locations around the world,” he said. “Are we producing the right skills, not for the 21st century, but for the next decade?”

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