Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University Announces Global Initiative to Educate 100 Million Learners by 2030

The Francis and Dionne Najafi Global Initiative is a one-of-a-kind inclusive, innovative, impactful global initiative that will advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4, Quality Education for all. 70% of participants will be women. Thunderbird’s new state-of-the art headquarters will also be named after Francis and Dionne Najafi.

PHOENIX, Jan. 20, 2022 – Thunderbird School of Global Management, home of the world’s No. 1 ranked Master’s in Management at Arizona State University (ASU), ranked No. 1 for innovation in the U.S., announced today a transformative new global initiative to educate and empower 100 million learners by 2030. The announcement coincides with the World Economic Forum’s State of the World sessions.

Thanks to a historic $25 million donation from the Francis and Dionne Najafi Global Initiative, Thunderbird will offer a free, accredited online Global Management and Entrepreneurship Certificate, consisting of five world-class courses in 40 different languages. Of the 100 million learners the program will reach worldwide, 70% will be women and young women. Never before has such an ambitious higher education goal been launched.

The Francis and Dionne Najafi Global Initiative has been made possible through a generous donation from prominent Phoenix businessman and Thunderbird alumni F. Francis Najafi ’77 and his wife Dionne Najafi ’06. “Our lives were transformed by our experience at Thunderbird and we wanted to extend that same transformative experience to people around the world who don’t have the opportunity to access this world-class education,” said the Najafis. “We are excited and deeply humbled to be part of such a bold initiative.”

The United Nations estimates that the COVID-19 pandemic has erased 20 years worth of educational gains. In addition, the uncertainty and disruption that has come to characterize this era of rapid technological disruption has displaced many workers, increasing the need for upskilling and reskilling in order to seize the immense opportunity of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

“Thunderbird is the most global and digital leadership and management academy in the world and has touched over two million learners in its renowned 75 year history. As part of Arizona State University, we measure success not by whom we exclude, but rather by whom we include and how they succeed,” said Thunderbird Director General and Dean, Dr. Sanjeev Khagram. “This initiative will enable ASU and Thunderbird to provide quality higher education to people from all over the globe and advance the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4, Quality Education for all.”

Once the learners in the Francis and Dionne Najafi Global Initiative complete the certificate courses, they will have an almost limitless number of lifelong learning options and alternative educational pathways through Thunderbird and ASU. Providing these opportunities over the long-term ensures that the Global Initiative will continue to pay dividends well into the future, breaking down barriers and opening new educational opportunities for underserved communities worldwide.

“Access to higher education and the need for equity and inclusion is one of a global scale. One of the reasons Arizona State University is so pleased to have Thunderbird as part of our enterprise is because it is a school that has been focused on sustained prosperity worldwide for decades,” said ASU President Michael Crow. “The commitment made to the school by Francis and Dionne Najafi will impact communities around the world and be a force that brings all of us closer together. We are grateful for their commitment to a borderless expansion of the opportunities that come with higher education.”

“In honor of the Najafis’ generous donation, we will be naming our global headquarters in Phoenix after them,” said Thunderbird Director General and Dean, Dr. Sanjeev Khagram. “The F. Francis and Dionne Najafi Thunderbird Global Headquarters will educate and prepare global leaders for years to come.”

Educating 100 million learners in ten years will require a strategic, phased approach. In year one, the Global Initiative aims to reach learners in Iran, Kenya, Mexico, Indonesia, Egypt, India, Senegal, Brazil, and Vietnam in their native languages. By year two, the program will be expanded to other countries in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin America. By year four, the Global Initiative will have expanded to Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States. Eventually, the initiative will be available for for learners worldwide, reaching our goal of 100 million learners.

The Francis and Dionne Najafi Global Initiative will provide millions of people with the global management and entrepreneurship skill set that is imperative for both personal and economic success to address persistent poverty and increase equality worldwide. Interested individuals can pre-register at:

About F. Francis and Dionne Najafi

Francis Najafi is the American Dream come to life. He came to America from Iran to get an education and earned four degrees from three universities. In 1982 he founded the Pivotal Group, a real estate investment firm with uncanny market timing and wisdom, and later integrated successful private equity operations into the firm. His later investments include part ownership of the Phoenix Suns. As his success grew, so did his philanthropy: Mr. Najafi has given millions of his own money to an incredibly wide range of causes, headlined by his recent $25 million donation to Arizona State University.