Walking the Walk

Alumnus Leaves Corporate World to Teach Entrepreneurship to Women in the Middle East

Dr. Jack ZimmermanDr. Jack Zimmerman (EdD ’08) believes in goal-driven living. Having worked as a senior executive for firms such as Caterpillar, Intel, and General Electric, he found himself looking for a new goal, and decided on academia because it seemed to him the best way to give back. After completing his training, Zimmerman went on to teach accounting, finance, and economics at various learning institutions. However, he never expected to end up as far away from home as the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Despite the obvious distance and cultural differences, Zimmerman has made quickly adapted to teaching entrepreneurship to Muslim students, primarily women, at Zayed University in the UAE. It is a novel experience, to be sure, but one which has felt decidedly less foreign than Zimmerman expected. “Students are students,” he said.

Two such students, Mariam Abdul Rahman Al Hammadi and Sumaiya Ebrahim Al Qudaimi, recently competed for the Manchester Innovation Award. Open to Emiratis aged 20 and above, the contest was created to discover groundbreaking business ideas and develop Emirati entrepreneurship.

After observing a pronounced lack of healthy food options at the retail level, particularly in fast food, Al Hammadi and Al Qudaimi decided that their venture would be a health food restaurant. Having learned that nearly 17 percent of special-needs people in the UAE hesitate to patronize public eating areas because of challenges posed in communicating with servers and others, the students determined that their restaurant, named Hawa Society, should be accessible and pleasing to the general population and special-needs customers alike. Hawa Society would even include a menu in Braille—the first of its kind in the UAE.

Al Hammadi and Al Qudaimi learned about the contest from another Zayed faculty member, who recommended they work with Zimmerman on their entry, “since entrepreneurship is my passion,” Zimmerman said.

Dr. Jack Zimmerman

“We only had about three weeks,” Zimmerman said. “I worked up a timeline with them where they would write a section, e-mail it to me, and I would provide feedback. I told them I would keep up my end if they met all the deadlines and they did! We had a number of meetings where I would quiz them about their idea and suggest areas that they could research to improve the plan.”

The two undergraduates were among the contests’ top ten finalists—quite an accomplishment, given that they were some of the youngest contestants, competing against men 10 and 20 years their senior.

Currently, Al Hammadi and Al Qudaimi are seeking funding to make their vision a reality. Zayed University is building a new campus in Abu Dhabi, a site which may provide the base for Hawa Society. Other plans include partnerships with various organizations, including hospitals, health food stores, and government agencies, with the aim of cross-promotion via events, services, facilities, menus, and so on.

“UAE women are incredibly entrepreneurial,” Zimmerman stated. “They see it as an outlet for self-expression, and a way to have both a career and family.”

Zimmerman chose to study at GSEP because of its focus on leadership, its values-based education, and its “reputation for rigor.” He credits the school with having prepared him for his new focus by giving him a solid understanding of academic research, reenergizing his respect for learning, and providing him with excellent teaching role models.

Currently teaching four classes per week at Zayed, Zimmerman will remain in the UAE until 2012. After that, perhaps unsurprisingly, he will be on the lookout for a new goal: “I’ll probably seek another faculty position where I can use my experience to contribute to helping others achieve their own goals.”

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