25 May 2010
Commencement and the Winds of ChangeRe: Forsan Hussein (MBA 2007)by Garry EmmonsTopics:
To give peace a chance, unleash the power of business.
That’s Sir Ronald Cohen’s (MBA ’69) idea for one of the world’s toughest neighborhoods: the Middle East. At an event hosted by the HBS Jewish Students Association on April 9, Cohen, cofounder and former CEO of Apax, Europe’s pioneering private-equity firm, asserted his belief that business and commercial ties can bind old enemies together and form the basis for rapprochement between Israelis and Palestineans. To help do just that, Cohen has founded the Portland Trust, with offices in London, Tel Aviv, and Ramallah, which makes investments designed to help ease tensions between Israel and its neighbors. The Palestinian economy, Sir Ronald said, is “a coiled spring” and capable of being “a rising tide” that could attain a GNP of $25 billion. (It’s about $4 billion now.)
Cohen, who was a recipient of the HBS Alumni Achievement Award in 2006, addressed graduating HBS students at this year’s Class Day. Born in Cairo, Cohen was 11 when he and his family, along with other Jewish residents, were forced to leave Egypt by the country’s government after the Suez Canal crisis in 1956. Allowed to travel with just one suitcase each, the family settled in England. Cohen went on to win a scholarship to Oxford, where he was president of the Oxford Union, before attending HBS.
Quite by coincidence as I write this, over the transom comes an update from Forsan Hussein (MBA ’07), who grew up in a small Arab village in Israel and has spent most of his young life working to close the divide that separates Israelis and Palestinians. After a career in finance, he left the United States in 2009 to accept a new position overseas. And here’s the incredible thing: Hussein, a Muslim, is now CEO of the International Young Men’s Christian Association — in Jerusalem. Is that the winds of change I hear blowing? Like Sir Ronald, Forsan too has a vision: “to establish the Y as an international center for reconciliation and ethical leadership.” I myself won’t be speaking at any commencements this year, but in the spirit of the season, I’d like to offer up my own salutation anyway: All good luck to Sir Ronald and to Forsan in their brave and important work.
Class of MBA 1969, Section F