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Alumni Gather at Annual Pan-Arab Conference

This spring the MIT Arab Alumni Association held its third annual pan-Arab conference-this year in Beirut, Lebanon-to discuss how technology can help emerging nations, particularly those in the Arab world. The event, which featured senior members of the Lebanese government as well as leaders from industry and MIT, illustrated how volunteer leadership can create a vibrant alumni affinity group that spans the globe.

Alberto Haddad, SM ‘95, president of the MIT Arab Alumni Association (MIT AAA), says the Beirut conference, attended by more than 100 people, lent MIT tremendous visibility in the region. “Sloan School dean Richard Schmalensee had one-on-one meetings with the [Lebanese] minister of economy, Bassel Fuleihan, minister of finance, Fouad Siniora, member of parliament Mrs. Bahia Hariri, and dinners with Rafic Hariri, the president of the Council of Ministers of Lebanon, and Georges Frem, minister of industry and trade,” he says, adding that the meetings led to plans for further collaboration with MIT. Other MIT speakers included Ken Morse ‘68, director of the MIT Entrepreneurship Center, and Vijay Kumar, assistant provost for technology at MIT.

The conference also provided exceptional networking opportunities for alumni living in the Middle East, according to Haddad. “The value of the networking was beyond expectations,” he says. “People met new business contacts, found long-lost friends and enjoyed conversations about the cutting-edge things going on at MIT. In addition, alumni in countries where the MIT AAA has no chapter, such as Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, have decided to open local chapters, which is very encouraging.”

Reaching out to Arab and non-Arab alumni in the Middle East is a main goal of the pan-Arab conference series, according to Haddad. This year’s event was largely underwritten by the Abdul Latif Jameel group and its president, Mohammed Jameel ‘78, a prominent Saudi Arabian alumnus who is also a supporter of undergraduate scholarships at MIT. Overall, the MIT AAA attempts to connect Arab alumni living in countries all over the world, both to one another and to MIT. “Our membership is worldwide and dispersed, so our team has become expert at teleconferencing, e-mailing and sharing tasks across continents,” he says.

Pan-Arab conference attendees were hosted by the Harari Foundation at a dinner at the Khan al-Frenj, a rebuilt 17th-century French trading post in Beirut.

Founded in 1997 by Ennis Rimawi ‘91, SM ‘96, the MIT AAA benefits from the hard work of many alumni volunteers, including past president Shaheen Husain, SM ‘81, and vice president Samer Khanachet ‘72. Haddad, who is a Boston-based business consultant, says running the MIT AAA is really a team effort that tries to involve as many people as possible in decision-making.

Haddad says supporting other volunteers is the best part of being president. “It’s great to be able to help other committed volunteers bring their ideas to fruition and achieve something,” he says. In addition to his work with the MIT AAA, Haddad also serves as a counselor for prospective Sloan students and as a mentor to international Sloan students.

Bill Hecht ‘61, SM ‘76, vice president and CEO of the Alumni Association, spoke at the Beirut conference and says such events, organized by volunteers with local funding, reach out to alumni that MIT does not usually reach. It’s just one example of how alumni volunteers contribute to the Institute.

“In addition to organizing these outstanding conferences three years in a row, the volunteers from the MIT AAA are putting together an endowed scholarship fund for Arab students as well as creating a two-day executive education course for alumni in the Middle East,” he says. “Their efforts are truly commendable.”

For more information on the MIT Arab Alumni Association, please visit their Web site at alumweb.mit.edu/groups/arab/mitaaa/.

In addition to the MIT Arab Alumni Association, there are four other alumni affinity groups. They are AMITA, Association of MIT Alumnae; BAMIT, Black Alumni of MIT; BGALA, Bisexual, Gay and Lesbian Alumni of MIT; and CAMIT, Chinese Alumni of MIT. For more information, visit web.mit.edu/alum/connect/index.html#affinity.

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