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Mississippians hosting business professionals from former Soviet Union states Mississippians hosting business professionals from former Soviet Union states

Businesses sharing knowledge with international visitors

Greg Williams, a Realtor with RE/MAX Real Estate Partners in Ocean Springs, grew up in the Cold

War years when Americans were taught that people from the Soviet Union were the enemy.

Williams was trained as an Air Force pilot to defend the U.S. against the possibility of war with the

Soviet Union.

Now, however, Williams is working to help the very people he was trained to fight against. Working

with the Mississippi Consortium for International Development (MCID), Williams has been involved in

helping people from the former Soviet Union (the Newly Independent States or NIS) learn how to do

business in a free market economy.

Besides working with people from the NIS who have visited Mississippi, Williams has also traveled to

the NIS to provide business advice.

Mitch Kalom, a negotiation and business consultant and teacher in Biloxi, has also hosted international

visitors from many countries and has traveled to the NIS to provide advice on business skills needed to

operate in a free market economy.

“Some people call it an export of democracy,” Kalom said. “I call it the export of business skills in a

free market economy, which they don’t have much experience with. That is one of purposes of the

program, to mentor these business people. For example, they need to understand how to work in a

competitive environment. Many things we consider second nature are, for them, often difficult concepts

to grasp. There are a lot of industrialized cities that are just now finding out what the service sector and

entrepreneurship are all about.”

Kalom has hosted visitors from many foreign countries at his home in Ocean Springs over the past

eight years. He and Williams have also been involved in teaching and training in the NIS. Both went a

year ago, and Williams went again this year.

Lack of knowledge isn’t the only problem transitioning from communism to a free market economy.

The NIS are also having to try to make these changes at a time when the global economy is depressed.

The NIS also don’t have as many climate and natural resource advantages as the U.S., and there is also

great diversity in cultural backgrounds.

“It is easy for us to say the free market economy is great,” said Kalom, who speaks five languages.

“We don’t see the kinds of challenges these people are having to overcome. The people have a great

attitude and a lot of skills, but little opportunity right now. This program provides not just education but

contacts, someone to lean on.”

“Sometimes MCID participants are skeptical. They say, ‘Show me. I don’t see this great system.’

What works well in the U.S. with a strong economy is difficult to translate into countries mired in a

deep economic recession.”

Kalom said he has been inspired by the attitudes of the people he has worked with, especially

considering the hardships currently facing their countries.

“The good attitude they maintain is an inspiration today,” Kalom said. “Sometimes we think we have

problems. We don’t have problems. We create our own problems.”

Dilara Brantley, MCID program coordinator in Jackson, said that training offered by the organization is

very useful for participants.

“These people are getting a lot of knowledge from business people in Mississippi,” Brantley said.

MCID is a non-profit organization established in 1989 which receives assistance from professors at

Alcorn State University, Jackson State University and Tougaloo College. Usually MCID hosts about

six groups of foreign visitors per year. Most recently 10 Byelorussian businessmen visited to take

general training and seminar sessions. The visitors stayed with host families, which provided further

opportunities for the exchange of cultural and business ideas.

“This program is very, very useful because we’re helping these people in being very effective in

business,” Brantley said. “We try to show them how business is organized in America, and how

businesses organize and work effectively in a market economy. Before 10 years ago, everything in the

NIS was centralized. Nothing was privatized. No one knew how to run a small business.”

Brantley said the Mississippi business people involved in the program feel like they get a lot out of it.

“The interactions can make Americans look at business with a new eye,” she said. “They have a lot of

creative ideas, and share with American businessmen as well. Sometimes it is difficult to set up

interactions because business people are so busy. But some really want to take the time to share their

knowledge. Once they have met them, they don’t want them to go. They like them. We get a very high

caliber of participants.”

Participants undergo a competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of State to be selected for the

program. The participants are intelligent and well educated, and most speak several foreign languages.

Brantley said it is also interesting to see the interaction over issues concerning the Cold War.

“Americans say, ‘We thought you were going to attack us.’ And their visitors say, ‘We thought you

were going to attack us.’ Often the result of the conversations is greater understanding and respect for

each other.”

And that bodes well for the future.

“People here in the U.S. say that everything was misunderstood,” Brantley said. “It was all politics.

People like the (MCID) program because it helps people to be friends, not enemies. It helps people to

get to know each other better. Our children, our future generations, will not be like we were.”

Host families often develop strong ties of respect and affection for the visitors. Brantley said the host

families and visitors stay in touch for many years, and in some cases Americans travel to the NIS to

visit.

For more information on the program, Brantley can be contacted at (601) 979-3778.

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com or (228) 872-3457.

About Becky Gillette

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