It's not every day that you have an opportunity to witness an emerging entrepreneur community in a country that's undergoing an economic transition. But that's just what DePaul business students, faculty and alumni are doing, thanks to DePaul's Sheikh Faisal Center for Entrepreneurship in the Middle East.
Launched in 2014, the center sponsors programming that brings together DePaul MBA students, faculty and alumni with professionals in Qatar, a Middle East country on the shores of the Persian Gulf.
Seventeen MBA students visited Qatar and its capital city of Doha to learn about the country's economy and entrepreneurial expansion in December. In May, DePaul alumnus and digital marketing pioneer Paul Rand (MS '93) went on a four-day speaking tour in Qatar, seeing more than 200 entrepreneurs.
Center Director Mandy Terc says these trips offer DePaul students and alumni a unique behind-the-scenes look at a nation in the midst of economic change.
"The trip exposed students to a business environment in the Middle East, something they probably never would have been exposed to without it," says Terc, who has master's and doctoral degrees in Middle East studies. "It was an eye-opening experience, personally and professionally, allowing them to understand how that part of the world works. Such an experience can only be an asset for them and their careers."
Witness to Entrepreneurial Growth
As a nation dependent upon oil and natural gas for economic survival, Qatar's financial position is strong, yet vulnerable. Today the country has less than 1% unemployment, a per capita income of $100,000 and the third largest oil reserves in the world. But it's the future that concerns its leaders and that's why they've engineered an economic diversification strategy that includes entrepreneurship. One of the nation's top business leaders, Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani, through his foundation, reached out to DePaul to help with this initiative.
The trip, planned by Terc and staff members of the Sheikh Faisal Foundation, which funds the center, took students on a tour of Qatar's entrepreneurial ecosystem. They visited the Qatar Business Incubation Center, the Qatar Stock Exchange and the offices of Ooreedoo, the nation's telecommunication and cable company. They also met hydroponics farmers, T-shirt manufacturers, app developers and many small business owners.
"It was almost too overwhelming to see all that growth happening at once," says Rocio Alanis, a DePaul MBA candidate. Alanis said what stood out for her was the Embrace Doha experience. Part cultural immersion program, part tourist attraction, Embrace Doha was started by Amal Al Shammari, a Qatari national. The program is a way to introduce the country's native culture and customs to the many tourists and expatriates who venture there. About 88 percent of Qatar's population is made up of foreigners.
"It was wonderful to meet Amal and to learn about her experience as an entrepreneur," says Alanis. "We got to meet her and talk to her and hear how she's being empowered as a woman to run her own business."
Cultural and Educational Exchange
The hunger and eagerness of entrepreneurs to learn from DePaul students, alumni and faculty was apparent on Rand's trip to Qatar. During his talking tour, Rand focused on digital marketing, the subject of his book, "Highly Recommended: Harnessing the Power of Word of Mouth and Social Media to Build Your Brand and Your Business." Qataris wanted to learn more about his experience as an entrepreneur.
"I shared with them not only the successes but the many hurdles, roadblocks and failures that come with entrepreneurship," says Rand, president and CEO of Zocalo Group and vice chair of the Dean's Advisory Council for the Driehaus College of Business. Rand says his audiences wanted to hear about "the multiple challenges and how perseverance is the best virtue."
Terc says the next step is to bring Qatari entrepreneurs to DePaul for a two-week entrepreneur boot camp. Plans also are underway for DePaul faculty to travel to Doha to teach Qatari business students. In addition, the International Business Seminar to Qatar will become an annual event for MBA students.
With such a great start, it's clear this collaboration will continue to benefit both DePaul and its partners in the Persian Gulf.
"Anytime we can expose our students to a global perspective, there ends up being an extraordinary benefit," says Rand. "Increasingly, business is global. The ability for our students to get hands-on experience in a part of a world that they might not otherwise see is an extraordinary opportunity. What you pick up is that there are different cultural and societal norms and how to navigate those differences. This is an invaluable lesson."