Going Global: Babson in Dubai for the Second Annual Babson Connect: Worldwide
By Greg McQuade, MBA’16 and Graduate Fellow, Graduate Center for Career Development
Babson Graduate CCD’s Lily Awad recently returned from a trek to Dubai. She embarked on the journey to participate in the annual Babson Connect: Worldwide. I recently sat down with Awad to hear more about her experience, Babson’s growing presence in the UAE and some of her personal highlights from the trip. Thanks, Lily!
You recently returned from your trip to Dubai. Can you tell me about the itinerary of the most recent Babson Connect: Worldwide event?
This year marked the second annual Babson Connect: Worldwide which took place in Dubai, UAE – the economic and entrepreneurial engine of the Middle East. Babson College has over 340 alumni living in the region, and 127 alumni attended the Babson Connect from all over the world. A total of 329 attendees were at the event including alumni, parents, faculty, board members and friends of the college.
The itinerary for the Connect was rich with opportunities to network and develop relationships among all participants. In true Babson fashion, each panel discussion incorporated some aspect of entrepreneurship and included conversations with Middle Eastern business founders, government officials, and youth. The schedule included eight panel discussions and two workshops facilitated by Babson’s faculty (a Design Thinking Workshop led by Professors Heidi Neck and Candida Brush and a workshop on Shareholder Value & Corporate Responsibility led by Prof. Richard Bliss). Panel topics covered media entrepreneurship, family business, women in entrepreneurship, issues with youth unemployment, and more. During the Gala Awards Ceremony on March 5th, Babson inducted H.H. Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum into the Academy of Distinguished Entrepreneurs and honored Shainoor Khoja with the Lewis Institute’s Community Changemaker Award.
The scope of this trip was much larger than the domestic Babson Connect events – what was Babson’s mission in leading this event?
The Worldwide Connect and the Babson Connects are very different events. The Babson Connects take place in four U.S. cities throughout the academic year. The mission for Babson Connect: Worldwide is to both celebrate and share knowledge around entrepreneurship’s impact on economic growth and social improvement. Additionally, it is an opportunity for the college to enhance our reputation globally.
Today the world is so interconnected that organizations have no choice but to think globally. Through President Healey’s leadership Babson College is thinking strategically about how to export our brand internationally, especially in markets that make sense for the college. Dubai sits at a crossroads between Asia and Europe. It is a great mid-point meeting place for alumni and friends of the college, at the same time Babson’s relationships in the Middle East are growing. Last year’s Babson Connect: Worldwide took place in Cartagena, Colombia a historical Latin American city, and a country whose economy is deeply rooted in entrepreneurship. Next year’s event takes place in Thailand where Babson has one of their largest alumni clubs.
How are Babson faculty and Grad CCD working to connect students/graduates with the hiring needs of companies in Dubai and the UAE? What are some of the unique needs of this economic region?
Dubai is a fascinating place when it comes to workforce trends. As a young country there is still so much opportunity for entrepreneurship in the UAE. In addition, 90% of the UAE’s population is made up of expatriates. That is remarkable. The UAE houses the second largest expat community in the world (after Qatar). This is indication that hiring international workers is something corporations in the UAE are familiar with and open to. I encourage our students to consider opportunities with multinational companies and U.S. companies with a presence in the UAE. Not only will they gain phenomenal professional experience but there is also opportunity for global mobility within these organizations. I took some time to visit a handful of companies while in Dubai and learned that there is a pressing need for U.S. educated recent grads, especially in consulting, and Arabic language skills are often not required. I’m happy to meet with any of our graduate students considering careers in that region!
I understand there was an impressive contingent of attendees – can you highlight who from Babson, current students, alum, and those outside the Babson network that attended?
Out of the 320 participants there were 127 alumni and 129 friends of Babson. I couldn’t believe that the friends of the college outnumbered the alumni! That speaks volumes about Babson’s reach and reputation as the leading institution for entrepreneurship education.
The speakers were all quite impressive and included diplomats like Ruba Al Hassan, the Senior Advisor to the UAE Ambassador to the U.S., alumni and board members including three generations of the Habib family discussing Stories of Transgenerational Family Business, and Fadi Ghandour, renowned entrepreneur and founder of Aramex. Ghandour highlighted that the drop in oil prices has prompted entrepreneurship and revealed that e-commerce, payment, and digital media are some of the fastest growing industries now in the Middle East.
Youth unemployment was also a dominant topic of conversation throughout the weekend. Apparently there are 4 million jobs in the private sector in the UAE and only 200,000 locals working in the private sector. There was much debate on what the Emirati government should do to shrink that gap, from creating a localized entrepreneurial ecosystem to providing more micro-financing towards small businesses. With all of the challenges the region faces there appears to be ample opportunity for entrepreneurs to create social and economic value.
Dubai is a fascinating, growing city…after nearly a week in town you must have seen and done a lot – what was/were the highlight(s) of the trip for you?
It is a fascinating city. Every which way you turn the city is undergoing construction. One of the highlights was the Desert Safari. About 100 of the attendees participated in the safari. We took jeeps deep into the desert and enjoyed a traditional dinner with live entertainment. It was a nice treat. I also had the chance to visit the Burj Khalifa, tallest building in the world. I enjoyed the view of Dubai, having visited ten years prior the city was almost unrecognizable! Dubai is a place worth visiting.