Rise of Middle Eastern Business in Stern, US Business Schools

By Tamim Alhourani

In recent years, the Middle East has become a key area of focus for top American business schools. This is the result of the region’s continued growth and demonstrated ability to attract global investment. This emerging area of study has caught the attention of students and faculty members alike. Now, many are eager to gain a better understanding of the region’s business practices and culture.

The discovery of vast oil reserves in the region in the 20th century sparked widespread interest in studying business in the region. However, as its economy evolved, so too did the focus of Middle Eastern business education. Today, through coursework and research, business schools are exploring a range of topics beyond energy, including tourism, entrepreneurship and finance. 

Stern recognizes the importance of the region to the global economy. In recent years, it’s made a significant push to become a leader in the study of Middle Eastern Business. The influx of NYU Abu Dhabi students every semester drives the demand for more classes focused on the region. Also playing a role is the Middle Eastern Business Association (MEBA), an undergraduate student organization at Stern. The organization provides a platform for networking, career development and cultural exchange, and serves as a hub for students, alumni and business professionals interested in the Middle East, according to club President Hamzeh Alsughair.

MEBA contributes to Stern’s foothold in Middle Eastern business by linking alumni in the region with current students. The group organizes events that bring alumni back to campus, which provides valuable networking and mentorship opportunities. Alsughair says this highlights the accomplishments of Stern graduates in the Middle East, and creates a strong sense of community among Stern students and alumni with ties to the region. Importantly, MEBA is also a platform for businesspeople from or in the Middle East to showcase their journeys and share their experiences with the Stern community. It hosts events featuring guest speakers from a variety of industries, including finance, entrepreneurship and real estate. For example, MEBA recently hosted Hady Kfoury, founder of student favorite Lebanese fast-casual chain Naya, as well as Blank Street Coffee co-founders Issam Freiha and Vinay Menda. Its members are recognized for their efforts at promoting cross-cultural understanding, and Alsughair hopes the organization can serve as a model for other chapters throughout the country.

In fact, Stern is one of the first business schools to establish different partnerships with business schools and institutions in the Middle East to offer experiential learning opportunities. One example is the joint MBA program with the HEC Paris School of Management in Qatar, which offers students the option to study in both New York and Doha. It also partnered with the Dubai International Financial Centre to offer Executive education programs focusing on Islamic Finance among other aspects of Middle Eastern business. The DIFC hosted the reception for Executive MBA graduates of Stern and many of the region’s Stern alumni as early as 2008. The press release described the event as in-line with Dubai’s rapid development. There is an increasing demand for well-educated and highly trained professionals in financial services, and “prestigious institutions such as NYU” can play a significant role in fulfilling this demand, according to the DIFC.

At Harvard Business School, Middle Eastern business is now an integral part of the curriculum. The school established the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Research Center in Istanbul in 2013, followed by offices in Dubai and Cairo. According to the HBS website, support for faculty research, student programming, Executive Education, and Harvard Business Publishing surrounding Middle Eastern business is enabled by these locations. Similarly, the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management offer Middle Eastern business programs to students interested in the region.

The importance of Middle Eastern Business stems from a variety of factors. One is the region’s strategic importance as a major oil and gas producer and hub for international trade. Another is the growing influence of Middle Eastern investors in global markets, as they look to diversify their portfolios.

As the global economy continues to evolve, it’s clear that the Middle East will play an increasingly critical role in shaping business trends and opportunities. By investing in Middle Eastern business education, Stern and other American business schools are positioning their students to be at the forefront of this emerging region.

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