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Abu Dhabi: How a Partnership Came Together

By John Crawford

Many people helped hammer out Babson’s partnership to create the Abu Dhabi School of Management in the United Arab Emirates, but the process began with something simple: a conversation.

The setting was Cairo. Cheryl Kiser, back in February 2010, was taking part in a Babson-led listening session in advance of the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship to be held a couple of months later. Sitting at a reception, the Lewis Institute’s managing director found herself next to Magdi Hafez, president of the United Arab Emirates’ UAE Academy. He had a request: “I want to know more about Babson.”

So Kiser, who’s also the Social Innovation Lab’s executive director, told him about the College. Hafez was impressed. In fact, he was so impressed that shortly thereafter he made a decision. The Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, of which the academy is a subsidiary, needed a partner to help create a new business school, and Hafez now realized who that partner should be. “Babson is the place I want to be,” he said.

With an agreement signed in May, Babson now is assisting in the establishment and operation of the Abu Dhabi School of Management, which will focus on entrepreneurship. Babson will formulate a curriculum and train the new school’s faculty, advise on the development of support services and infrastructure, and provide managerial supervision for the school and its operations.

While other schools such as Yale and New York University have built or are planning branch campuses, Babson won’t be doing that in Abu Dhabi. Why? More flexibility, says Shahid Ansari, provost and dean of faculty. Any branch would be forced to deal with Babson’s established way of doing things. Better to start with a clean slate. “It’s a place to experiment and push the state of the art,” Ansari says.

Of course, making this partnership a reality involved more than just that one initial conversation. From beginning to end, the deal took about two months, says Ansari, who, during the tail end of that process, flew out to Abu Dhabi for three days to iron out the final details. The new institution now becomes part of Babson’s growing global initiatives. It also shows what can result from just two people talking and connecting. “I believe everything starts with a relationship, and I never underestimate the power of a good conversation,” Kiser says.

The new school is a founding member of the Global Consortium for Entrepreneurship Education, which shares the College’s expertise in entrepreneurship education with a worldwide network of similarly minded academic institutions. The consortium, in turn, comes under the umbrella of Babson Global, a 501(c)(3) corporation that the College set up to handle its various worldwide initiatives, which will bring revenue, new learning, and a higher international profile to Babson.