MIT needs to develop its relationship with the Arab World, according to the MIT Arab Students Organization (ASO). This is the focus of their most recent effort, the MIT Middle East and North Africa Career Fair (MENA).
Abdulaziz Alghunaim ’15, MENA’s founder and logistics head, noted that there was interest from both Arab students who wanted professional opportunities close to home, and from others who want to explore Arab culture, creating an unmet need at MIT.
Initially proposed in spring 2014, MENA was a way to bring together two communities that have little interaction.
“Arab companies want MIT students … because there is so much economic growth [in the region],” Alghunaim said. Several companies had already contacted the ASO in order to reach interested students.
Eight companies and organizations registered to attend at MENA’s debut last Sunday, some with existing name recognition at MIT like McKinsey and Microsoft, and some that are region-specific like Doroob and the Queen Rania Foundation. All eight companies received student-submitted résumés, as did four others that did not attend.
ASO members also sought to address assumptions about the Arab world. “People generally box [the Middle East] and don’t understand how progressive the Arab world can be,” MENA publicity head Shadab Dawood ’15 said. She considers giving people a chance to widen their perspectives a personal goal.
MENA is an effective way for the ASO to facilitate cultural exposure, since it’s easier to motivate people to explore a new culture when they can advance professionally while doing so, Alghunaim said.
Finding sponsors for a new career fair presented a challenge, but the companies that participated shared many of the ASO’s goals. Alghunaim attributed the ASO’s success to the fact that “companies that came [had] their own passion for achieving that mission.”
Cultural differences were a challenge on both ends — Dawood said that local Middle Eastern companies didn’t have the same recruiting processes and expected in-person communication instead of emails, so “having them agree to do this American style was tougher.
A major step in introducing any career opportunity to MIT students is gaining approval from Global Education and Career Development (GECD). Organizers must complete comprehensive proposals and have them reviewed, and prove that their event is worthwhile. In short, ASO needed to “give them a reason to say yes,” Dawood said.
Though the process was challenging, Dawood said that the GECD was agreeable despite maintaining rigorous standards.
Alghunaim said that the extensive requirements actually aided in the planning process. Working with the GECD gave them access to many examples of similar events held in the past and helped MENA run smoothly despite being new and completely led by students.
The turnout of roughly 140 people resulted in over 35 interviews and satisfied sponsors, but Alghunaim considers the next step to be improving student outreach. A lot of time was spent attracting employers and making sure they had good experiences, he said, but there wasn’t enough effort put into appealing to students, and the ASO had hoped more students would attend.
MENA joins the existing annual European and Asian career fairs as a region-specific recruiting opportunity.