Muscat: Eleventh annual Harvard Arab World Conference is being held for the first time in Oman on April 2 at the Shangri La Barr Al Jissah Resort and Spa in Muscat. Ahmed el Gaili, President of the Harvard Arab Alumni Association (HAAA), which is conducting the conference talks to the Times of Oman in detail about the event.
Question This years’ conference is titled ‘Innovation: Inspiring a New Arab World’, what kinds of outcome you are hoping to achieve from it?
Answer This year’s conference will explore a multitude of innovative initiatives emerging out of the MENA region. We promise a day full of learning, debate, networking, and intellectual stimulation and hope that attendees will leave with a better understanding of how innovation can be a vehicle of transformation and an indispensable tool for building a new and prosperous Arab World. We view the conference as an opportunity to convene the next generation of thinkers in the region alongside accomplished leaders from a variety of fields.
Q As the president of the HAAA, what is your vision in terms of building a strong network of HAAA and how do you plan to solidify it?
A HAAA's vision is to continue to promote and strengthen the “Arab voice” at Harvard and to support our Harvard alumni so that they could have a profound impact on their societies. Importantly, we aspire to increase our “thought leadership” initiatives and to be the forum of choice for discussing Arab issues in both the United States and the Arab World.
Q What assistance does the HAAA offer Arab students who want to enroll into Harvard?
A We dedicate a significant portion of our activities to bring more Arab students to Harvard by working closely with the University, and by launching our HAAA Scholarship, Harvard’s first alumni scholarship fund, which has supported at least one Arab student for each of last 5 years. We also organize workshops in different Arab cities to demystify the application process and we are holding such seminar in Oman on April 1, the day before the conference.
Q Does the HAAA offer support to the Arab students currently studying at Harvard?
A We work very closely with them, support their activities and collaborate with the students on campus to organise our flagship event-the Harvard Arab Weekend, which has become the largest Arab gathering in North America with over 1,300 attendees at the last conference.
Q Is the HAAA planning to partner with the Ministry of education in Oman or a charity organisation to work in partnership with them and solidify its presence in Oman?
A We are in discussions with some private sector entities about possibly launching a scholarship for Omani students to study at Harvard and we are hoping to make an announcement at the conference.
Q Can you elaborate on the first ever HAAA-sponsored startup pitch competition in the Arab World?
A The startup pitch competition aims to show-case the creativity and persistence embedded within our generation and to support entrepreneurs on their paths ahead. Startups will pitch for 5 minutes, and answer questions from our high-profile panel of judges for 5 minutes.
Q HAAA seeks to promote and strengthen the “Arab voice” at Harvard, how much of that have you been able to achieve in all these years?
A We have made some important improvements to strengthen the Arab voice – be it within the student body, the curriculum, the faculty, or the research priorities. In addition, by organising the largest Arab conference in North America, we turned Harvard into the Arab intellectual capital of North America and have restored to Arabs in America the right to speak and think about issues relating to the Arab World which were monopolised by non-Arab think tanks.