Darden Worldwide Course Shifts Focus Following Earthquake in Morocco

By Dave Hendrick

Kiana Feliciano (Class of 2024) knew she wanted to take the Darden Worldwide Course in Morocco, as the prospect of learning on the ground at the confluence of many different cultures was immensely appealing. 

When the agenda for the course, led by Professor Paul Matherne, was released, it confirmed Feliciano’s initial excitement.  

“The theme itself was ‘Doing Business In Morocco,’ but it covered so much: the business side, the cultural side, politics and economics. I was really excited when I saw the itinerary, because they tried to make sure we saw a little bit of everything.” 

"I think what the Darden students are getting is an honest upfront look at what shared growth in an enduring way could look like."
Yossef Ben-Meir, president of the High Atlas Foundation

Then, shortly before the course was to start, Morocco experienced an enormous earthquake, killing thousands and devastating large swaths of the mountainous countryside.  

Matherne and organizers at the Darden Center for Global Initiatives reassessed the original course, working to ensure the course would be safe, meaningful and appropriate in the wake of the destruction.  

The course did proceed, as much of Morocco was unscathed by the earthquake, but the planned visit with the High Atlas Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in the area particularly hard hit by the earthquake, took on new relevance. The organization, which has a longstanding relationship with UVA and Darden, helps rural communities prioritize and create sustainable development goals. The foundation plants and grows trees for carbon offsets, using the proceeds for community-driven initiatives such as water infrastructure, women’s cooperatives and education. 

After ensuring that their presence would not be a hindrance to recovery efforts, the revised itinerary actually called for additional time with the High Atlas Foundation. Previous UVA and Darden groups had spent time with the organization to witness what enduring community-driven development requires. At its heart, the effort often entails locals identifying what they want in their lives and then the organization giving their energy and time to making sure those goals succeed, according to Yossef Ben-Meir, president of the High Atlas Foundation.  

“I think what the Darden students are getting is an honest upfront look at what shared growth in an enduring way could look like,” said Ben-Meir, who is based in Morocco but is a frequent guest lecturer at UVA. “We’re also sharing a story, a story that we love to share, that we believe in, and hopefully some connection, some ongoing relationship will continue afterwards. But you’re just really spending time together trying to learn from each other and enjoy the experience.” 

"Next time I travel, I’m not going to be able to meet with the companies there. I'm never going to be able to really understand how local startups work. The DWC is truly about the learning experience."
Kiana Feliciano (Class of 2024)

In addition to the visits by Executive MBA students on global residencies and Darden Worldwide Courses, Darden students have worked with High Atlas through a global consulting project on carbon offset credits. 

Among other activities, the Darden students visiting in October observed what Ben-Meir described as psychosocial empowerment working session with groups of women processing the trauma and aftermath of the earthquakes.  

“It was emotional because they had just been through the earthquake and they invited us in to the workshop,” said Matherne. “We couldn’t understand what they were saying, but they were blowing up balloons that signified how much residual fear they had. And the kids were all asking us about earthquakes, and whether we had experienced one.” 

Ben-Meir said he initially worried the intensity level may have been too much for the students, but as the day progressed and students and participants ate lunch together, it was clear the interaction was “warm and sincere and emotional,” Ben-Meir said.  

Before going to Morocco, Matherne and the Darden students decided to make a modest contribution to ongoing recovery efforts, gathering clothing, blankets and toys to bring to the affected communities, as well as hosting a lunch in one of the villages. Many students also bought handmade carpets from the artisans, which may not have been the most convenient item to carry on the journey, but was meaningful for the crafters and participants.    

The October course wasn’t the first time Darden students have been moved by a visit to the High Atlas visit. When members of the Executive MBA Class of 2024 on a global residency saw the group’s work growing trees and helping to form a women’s cooperative, they eventually raised more than $12,000 for the group.  

Feliciano said students left in awe of how the women in the community appeared to be pushing through scenes of devastation to continue the efforts of their cooperatives. She said she was further touched by efforts by the High Atlas Foundation to help children in the impacted region ensure that they continued to see the opportunities that could arise from education.  

“There are so many places in the world that are in dire need of humanitarian aid, and these communities, yes, their homes need rebuilding, but they have the community and they have each other too, and it was helping them through trying times,” said Feliciano. 

While the High Atlas Foundation was perhaps the highlight of the trip, according to Matherne and Feliciano, the DWC offered countless unparalleled learning opportunities.  

“It just made me realize how important the DWC is to my experience in Darden,” said Feliciano, who is looking forward to another course in Ireland before she graduates and begins a career in investment banking. “Next time I travel, I’m not going to be able to meet with the companies there. I’m never going to be able to really understand how local startups work. The DWC is truly about the learning experience.” 

About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business prepares responsible global leaders through unparalleled transformational learning experiences. Darden’s graduate degree programs (MBA, MSBA and Ph.D.) and Executive Education & Lifelong Learning programs offered by the Darden School Foundation set the stage for a lifetime of career advancement and impact. Darden’s top-ranked faculty, renowned for teaching excellence, inspires and shapes modern business leadership worldwide through research, thought leadership and business publishing. Darden has Grounds in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Washington, D.C., area and a global community that includes 18,000 alumni in 90 countries. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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