By Peter Walker for CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Being a young woman trying to forge a career in business can be difficult enough at the best of times.
But when you're trying to do so in Iraq -- or perhaps Saudi Arabia, or the West Bank -- it can seem like a near-impossible task.
This month, however, 41 young females leaders in business, and in law, from around a dozen countries and territories in the Middle East and North Africa are in the United States to get some of the very best academic help available.
A group of them are spending a month taking a specially-designed executive education program at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, something to be followed by a five-month internship with a leading U.S. corporation.
Their peers in the legal field are receiving similar training at the university's law school, to be followed by their own internships at major firms.
The women, aged between 22 and 32, are the latest group to benefit from what is formally known as the Legal and Business Fellowship Program, or LBFP, funded by the U.S. government's Middle East Partnership Initiative, part of the State Department, and run in association with different business schools each year.
In 2004, during the first incarnation of the program, which is organized by the non-profit group America-Mideast Educational and Training Services, 22 woman studied at the Fuqua School of Business, part of Duke University in North Carolina.
For a few of those initial participants, as with the latest group, the program offers more than a just a chance to learn more about U.S. and international business methods -- at Duke, three of the women were from Iraq and two were Palestinian, meaning they were also getting away, for a period, from conflict and violence.
Duke hosted another group of women on the program last year, while others studied at Emory University's Goizueta Business School in Atlanta.
The LBFP is open to women from 16 countries at territories -- Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, West Bank and Gaza, and Yemen.
Many women struggle to forge business careers in these places, where traditional customs and beliefs can often discriminate heavily against them.
Change is happening, if slowly, even in the most conservative states. Women can point to the success of some peers, for example Dr Nehad Taher, senior economist at Saudi Arabia's National Commercial Bank and Elham Hassan, senior partner with accountancy giants PricewaterhouseCoopers in Bahrain.
However, such stories remain uncommon, making initiatives like the LBFP all the more valuable.
"The Middle East Partnership Initiative supports the aspirations of people in the region seeking greater freedom and opportunity," U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Scott Carpenter said of the latest program.
"This impressive group of women embodies these aspirations, and we are happy to stand with them as they develop new business and legal skills to help their communities flourish."
There are also benefits for the schools involved, according to Sandhya Karpe, senior director of executive education at Wharton.
"Gathering such a large group of women from a wide variety of countries will encourage information-sharing, networking, and bridge-building among the participants and faculty. It is from such unique opportunities that great ideas --and change -- can emerge," she said.
Getting connected: A Saudi women's business conference.
FACT BOXFT MBA Rankings
1. Wharton, U.S.
2. Columbia, U.S.
3. Harvard, U.S.
4. Stanford GSB, U.S.
5. London Business School, UK
6. Chicago GSB, U.S.
7. Insead, France/Singapore
8. Stern, NYU, U.S.
9. Tuck, Dartmouth, U.S.
10. Yale, U.S.
Source: Financial Times 2007
FACT BOXMBA BASICS
The classic MBA is a two-year full-time program. Accelerated and distance learning MBAs are increasingly popular.
A typical MBA student has several years' work experience and is in their late 20s.
Those who take an Executive MBA, or EMBA, tend to be older, more senior managers.
Courses are expensive, but the rewards are high -- some new MBAs now get a $100,000 basic salary, according to a survey.