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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Canadians spread the (business) word

Robert Elensky is a new type of Canadian missionary.

His sermon is delivered in a university and has absolutely nothing to do with the gospel.

Elensky is a capitalist missionary; his text is the universal language of money.

A student at the University of Western Ontario's Business School, Elensky, who will receive his M. B. A. in June, is also co-director of Project Leader.

The student-run program's goal is to teach Russians the basics of how to work in a market economy.

"Our program is different because it is entirely created and organized by students", Elensky said. "The idea was to come here and teach people business. They don't even understand the basics, like credit".

Success came quickly. The program was created by students in 1990. By May, 1991, 27 students travelled to Moscow and St. Petersburg - funding the trip individually at a cost of about $1, 800 each.

This year, 51 Canadians are giving seminars to 450 students in Lithuania, Latvia, Belarus, and Ukraine. They are funded by a $107, 000 grant from the Canadian government. Partners throughout the Commonwealth of Independent States, usually academic institutions, select the participants and house the Canadians, often in student dormitories.

Canadian Ph. D. graduates condensed the first year of Western's two-year M. B. A. program into a three week seminar, which consists of lectures, projects and role-playing work, where students split into two groups and act out the process of creating a joint venture.

Elensky boasts that his program is more cost effective than those that send Russians abroad, like some American universities that charge $6, 000 a person for a similar three-week seminar. Russians abroad are often also at least as interested in sightseeing as studying, he added.

The problem the Canadians experience, though, is that the new Russian form of business - set against a background of state lawlessness and chaos - is vastly different from textbook Canadian commerce.

"The most difficult part is when we come up with cases and assumptions of corruption, bribery and the mafia", said Nathalie Mercure, a 27-year-old Canadian lawyer who will receive her M. B. A. in June.

"For us it's really difficult to relate to", she added. "But we've come to teach them the Western way - not necessarily how business works here. We're bright enough to go on the streets and see how it's done, but we're not going to give a lecture about it".

For example, when discussing how to set up a joint-venture at a seminar in Moscow's Academy of National Economy, many Russians explain to their Canadian "teachers" - in every-day-matter-of-fact-tones - a spiralling system of payoffs instead of a legal tangle of paperwork.

"It's not our place to try to teach them how to do business in this country", Elensky said. "Our aim is to give people tools, the basic knowledge to improve their economy".