Picture this: 45 people, one house and a war that feels like it might never end.

This was where Iyad AlTahrawi found himself in July 2014, in his home in Gaza. When it was safe to venture out, he faced four-hour waits to get one loaf of bread – that’s 40 slices. It was sometimes all he had to share with the whole household. In lieu of more food, they shared cigarettes.

From this dark despair, hope grew for AlTahrawi.

In 2012, AlTahrawi travelled from Gaza to the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University for the inaugural year of the Coca-Cola MENA Scholars program, a scholarship program for students from the Middle East and North Africa. The MENA Scholars program – which AlTahrawi described as “the best experience I’ve ever had in my life” – brought him to the states to represent Palestine and learn about business.

Like many former Coca-Cola scholars, AlTahrawi saw an opportunity to build on his academic experience by seeking an internship with Coca-Cola or an advanced degree.

During the summer of 2015, AlTahrawi landed an internship on Coca-Cola’s Public Affairs and Communications International Government Relations team. In addition to his 2012 participation in the Coca-Cola MENA Scholars program, AlTahrawi had built an impressive resume in a city that struggled to provide work for its 1.8 million residents in just 139 square miles.

Iyad AlTahrawi's Post-It Notes
Iyad AlTahrwai’s internship focused primarily on sustainability projects relating to global warming, women entrepreneurship and carbon taxing. Since English is not AlTahrwai’s first language, at the beginning of the summer he found himself struggling to keep up with the conversation during meetings, so he made this board to help him understand all the projects he worked on.

Building His Resume

AlTahrawi graduated from Al-Azhar University in Gaza with a computer systems engineering degree, and his first job was with a metal company. He carried metal on his back and stocked it on store shelves, working six days a week for 12 hours a day, earning about $100 a month. From this position, AlTahrawi made his way to a business-consulting role with Mercy Corps. Though he was a low-ranking, short-term employee, it was a good position with exciting growth potential. Knowing that very few graduates find good jobs – with many graduates stuck selling orange juice or clothes in the streets – AlTahrawi considered himself lucky.

After working on several projects and gaining valuable skills, AlTahrawi left Mercy Corps for an IT job at the largest branch of Palestine Islamic Bank so he could gain experience in the for-profit sector.

It wasn’t long before AlTahrawi moved from IT to finance. After that, he worked on funding proposals for companies and individuals, HR, customer service, transfers and, finally, establishing the bank’s first business agreement with Visa. ”I ended up doing something I really like: setting a plan, setting the strategy for the plan, setting a target, and achieving that target.” When war broke out again in 2014, AlTahrawi realized there was much more he wanted to do before he died, so he resigned.

Growing up in Gaza, AlTahrawi has lived through several wars and was raised in a refugee camp, yet this war stands out to him as more intense and dangerous than previous conflicts. Lasting roughly 50 days, the violence of the conflict challenged AlTahrawi's resilience and optimistic outlook.

With the support of friends both near and far, AlTahrawi once again felt hope – especially when he learned that he had been accepted to Coca-Cola’s summer internship program.

Though combat had lessened, it was still so difficult to leave the country that AlTahrawi departed for his internship a full two months before it began, and he doesn’t know when he will return.

Iyad AlTahrwai Goals
Taking a page out of Muhtar Kent’s book, among the many goals AlTahrwai set for himself, one of his most successful goals was to get to know at least one new person per day.  Another important goal was to grow the MENA scholarship program by creating an online network for alumni; this is a project he will continue in Germany.  

Big Ambition

His internship ended Aug. 14, and AlTahrawi is leaving Atlanta to begin an MBA program in Germany. He has already secured a role with Coca-Cola Germany. For the next year, AlTahrawi will tour through various operational roles and learn the business in Europe. After that, AlTahrawi plans to finish his degree at Emory University in Atlanta and hopes to find a role with Coca-Cola in the states. With an MBA and business experience in the Middle East, the United States and Europe, AlTahrawi hopes to one day return home. Zahi Khouri – chairman of the Palestinian National Bottling Company – is a role model. AlTahrawi’s ambition is to follow in Khouri’s footsteps, working in the beverage industry and creating hundreds of jobs for his fellow Palestinians.

AlTahrawi is emphatic about staying with Coca-Cola. “I came to the U.S. as one person in 2012 as a Coca-Cola scholar, and I left as another person,” he said. “Everything good that’s happened has been because of the company. I want to give back.”