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Student travelled a tough road to join GSSE program

Leonard Dalipi, a new student this fall joining CSU's Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA program, has traveled a long road of challenge and triumph that has led him to Fort Collins.

Furthering his education

Leonard Dalipi, 29, survived the ethnic cleansing and war of 1998-1999 as a teenager and emerged determined to make a difference for his native Kosovo.

"Pursuing an MBA degree has been my dream,” Dalipi said. “My family has always talked about how an education is important. An educated person learns to distinguish the good from the bad, to develop skills and knowledge to become a doctor or lawyer, a strong leader or a good manager. Education provides us with choices.”

Having a student like Dalipi in the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise program has value not only for him, as a student, but for the program as well, according to Carl Hammerdorfer, GSSE director and executive director of the Center for the Advancement of Sustainable Enterprise.

“In our increasingly interconnected world, bringing students from traditional and new emerging markets enriches the GSSE MBA in several important ways,” Hammerdorfer said. “First, it broadens and enriches the conversation in the classroom. Second, it expands the range of countries where our student entrepreneurs can practice their craft. Kosovo, although located in Europe, is very much at the base of the global economic pyramid. What happens there over the next ten years could be a model for development in Asia, Latin America, and Africa that are building economies in a post-conflict context from whole cloths.”

Surviving the war

Kosovo’s emergence from the devastating ethnic cleansing and war of is nothing short of remarkable. Serbian military and paramilitary forces had driven more than 850,000 ethnic Albanians from their country before NATO air strikes, led by the U.S. forces authorized by former president Bill Clinton, stopped the Serbian atrocities. Before the strife ended, however, some 10,000 ethnic Albanian civilians, including women and children, were killed.

Dalipi, his parents, and his younger sister Nora, ethnic Albanians, survived the Kosovo war by hiding in their tiny Prishtina apartment for more than two months. As their neighbors were rounded up by Serbian police and forced onto trains to deport them from the country, the Dalipis tried to remain invisible, eating little, terrified they would be discovered.

Rebuilding through education

In the aftermath of war, amid stories of war crimes from the returning refugees, the United Nations and NATO began efforts to help Kosovo rebuild. Among those joining this international effort were American Paula Huntley and her attorney husband, Ed Villmoare, the latter of whom had volunteered to help build a new legal system for the country. With a background in marketing and an interest in books, Huntley took up the task of teaching English to a dedicated group of Kosovo teenagers, including Dalipi. 

Huntley kept a journal during her many months in Kosovo that later became a best-selling and critically acclaimed book, The Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo. The book gained its name from Ernest Hemingway’s classic novel, The Old Man and the Sea, the only book in English Huntley could find for her students in that war-ravaged country.

Huntley’s book tells the stories of her Kosovar Albanian students, focusing especially on Dalipi. As a result of Huntley’s book and her fund-raising efforts, thousands of Americans were inspired by Dalipi and his classmates. Donations poured in, making an American education possible for several young Kosovars, including Dalipi.

Seeking success

Dalipi graduated summa cum laude in 2006 from Graceland University of Iowa with a double major in international business and business administration. He then spent several months as an intern for the League of Conservation Voters and for the Faith in Politics Institute, both based in Washington, D.C., before returning to Kosovo. Since 2007, he has lived in Kosovo’s capital city, Prishtina, working at two of the country’s leading banks, ProCredit Bank and Raiffeisen Bank. He was married in July 2011 and plans for his new bride Dafina to join him in Colorado in the coming months.

“I believe that this is a good time for me to pursue an MBA degree as I now have a strong academic background, some work experience under my belt, and am now mature enough for a program like GSSE,” Dalipi said.

“I know that the knowledge and the skills I will acquire at CSU will help me succeed in Kosovo whether I start a business, work in a non-profit organization, or serve as a part of the government. The fact that not many young Kosovars have the opportunity to study in the U.S., in a program like GSSE, gives me an advantage. Also, I know that the experience of an American graduate education will help me to grow both personally and professionally.”

Improving Kosovo

A secondary goal for Dalipi is the promotion of Kosovo as one of the world’s newest countries. “While I am here, I hope to let people know more about Kosovarian culture, history, and people, and also talk about opportunities for possible investments in Kosovo. As I always mention, Kosovo is the poorest country in Europe. It is going through the developing phase and needs investments from abroad. Kosovo has a good potential in agriculture, technology, and manufacturing.”

Increasing community vitality

Dalipi learned about CSU’s GSSE MBA program from interactions with Hammerdorfer during the latter’s visits to Kosovo.

“I was looking for a program like GSSE, a program that focuses on innovative businesses enterprises that increase the social, economic and environmental vitality of a community,” Dalipi said. “I should not forget to mention that a big plus for me was the chance to live and study in a wonderful community such as Fort Collins!”