Our History

Business on the Frontlines began as a conversation between Carolyn Woo, the Martin J. Gillen Dean of the Mendoza College of Business from 1997 to 2011, and Viva Bartkus, the Paul E. Purcell Associate Professor of Management. Their conversation was “an examination of how to start business for the social good in a war-torn country.” 

Bartkus had spent time as a doctoral student studying violent conflicts in several African countries before working at McKinsey & Company, where she eventually became a partner. Their idea was to build on her distinctive expertise while partnering with organizations on the ground in vulnerable countries. 

a large group waving at the camera from a bridge2008

First course offered, students partner with communities in Bosnia and Lebanon.

Right away, Business on the Frontlines gained recognition even outside the College as a truly distinctive educational experience. In 2010, Forbes listed it as one of the "Most Innovative MBA Courses." In 2012, Frontlines was the subject of one of Notre Dame’s “What Would You Fight For?” spots during a football game. 


The program began to expand its partnerships, moving to broader engagement with multi-national corporations, regional partners and governmental institutions.

a woman discussing something with someone wearing a Notre Dame Mendoza College of Business branded backpack2020

Endowment creates the Meyer Business on the Frontlines Program

A generous gift of $15 million from Ken and Susan Meyer named and endowed this signature program, enabling evolution of the program’s global and domestic reach and increasing the number of MBA students who participate each year.

New courses were developed to address societal challenges in the United States and in the South Bend region. In 2020, the program launched Frontlines in America (FIA), which aims to apply the same kind of business problem-solving approach to U.S. communities challenged by poverty and economic and social exclusion. In partnership with organizations seeking to revitalize these communities, FIA seeks to develop sustainable solutions to intractable and enduring societal problems through the dynamic power of business.Two additional courses were created in 2021: Ways of Rebuilding Community (WORC), which applies the Frontlines approach to problem solving with partner organizations closer to home in the South Bend region, and Frontline Engagements, a course that offers students an opportunity to serve on-going and potential Frontlines partners in Central America, the Caribbean and northern South America, while exploring themes including illicit economies, deep poverty and post-conflict rehabilitation.

A large of group of guests in formal attire standing on a wide stairway2023

Staff join to support further growth

A managing director and a communications strategist were hired to best position the program for future success and expansion. Founding director Viva Bartkus retired after 15 years with Mendoza College, leaving Dean Woo’s and her vision of service and business as a force for good to continue on.

The program launched its fifth course: Regenerating Economies and Ecologies for Livelihoods, which expands students' knowledge of sustainability and business through interdisciplinary teamwork with students from science, engineering and global affairs.