Last year, I was privileged to win a scholarship onto the Middle East North Africa program of the Global Business Institute (GBI-MENA). This prestigious program is a collaboration between the US State Department and Coca-Cola, which gathered 100 students from across the MENA region to attend a four-week entrepreneurship course at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University.

I was among eleven Palestinians accepted into the program, with the others coming from Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Jordan and Morocco. Upon meeting my classmates in Indiana, I realized how lucky I was to be among this wonderful group of young leaders.  They were all working to enhance their communities, each from their own perspective.

There was Abdelrahman, a Jordanian student, who was selected as one of the world’s ten most influential young people in 2011. Delia, a fellow Palestinian, who won her university’s prize for best charitable project. And Basma, an Egyptian who is considered to be one of her country’s youngest inventors. I was surrounded by inspiring people who had achieved so much at such a young age.

The faculty, the Coca-Cola mentors and the program management team were also brilliant, and helped make this program incredibly exciting and enhancing.

On the first day we were split into twenty small teams and had to choose a business idea and deliver a business plan for it by the end of the fourth week. The team members didn't choose each other, making it even more challenging to deliver three months’ work in just a few weeks.

I was determined to benefit from the courses, the work and the team environment as much as I could, and to challenge myself to exceed my limits. I strongly believe that you never know what you are capable of unless you test yourself against the best.

For the first few days, we all thought that we could operate without a team leader and manage ourselves. But it didn't take long to realize that a leader must be chosen, and luckily I was selected for my team. Like the other twenty team leaders, I didn't know if I could manage such an intelligent group, but I was sure to give it my best.

Our experience in Indiana wasn't limited to the classroom, as we got the chance to participate in many other activities: team-building exercises and outdoor adventures at Bradford Woods; trips to the art museum, theatre and cinema; barbeques, and the 4th of July celebrations.

Before we finished the program and left for Washington D.C., we presented our business plans, took part in a closing ceremony and held a formal dinner, where we shared our dreams and achievements. I remember my statement that day was: "I've always thought that it’s the books that formed America, but now I understand that it's the people". I pointed to the very qualified professors who taught us and said that it’s by the power of the people that the country was built.

As Indiana saluted us with tears from the skies, the District of Columbia welcomed us with a sunny beautiful day. We were introduced to many new interesting people, mostly from business and non-governmental organizations, and had the chance to visit the city’s historic sites. 

Group photo with Coca-Cola's CEO Muhtar Kent at the Atlanta Headquarters

Group photo with Coca-Cola's CEO Muhtar Kent at the Atlanta Headquarters

From there, we traveled to Atlanta to visit Coca-Cola HQ. The biggest lesson I learned as we toured the building was that every single employee has great passion for Coca-Cola and pride for their work.

As we left the USA and returned to our home countries, we said goodbye to the wonderful students we met, the great company that hosted us and the country that made us feel so welcome.

I dream of continuing my education in the U.S. and learning more about entrepreneurship. In Palestine, entrepreneurship classes are not offered and my studies will help me benefit my society by improving the economic situation in the region.

Currently, I believe that creating jobs is easier than finding one, so I will pursue my dream and hopefully I will start a new venture that will supply many job opportunities to the unemployed youth and will help decrease the unemployment rates in the country.

Upon my return and graduation, I started work in the Finance Department at the Palestine Islamic bank.  Without doubt, one of the main reasons I earned the job was the GBI-MENA program. The business, entrepreneurship and communication skills I learned from Prof. Bailey and the faculty at the Kelley School of Business will stay with me for the rest of my life. Thank you to everyone who gave me this amazing opportunity.

Iyad Altahrawi is a graduate of Alazhar in the Palestinian Authority Area.  In 2012, he participated in the The Coca-Cola Scholars Program, a joint initiative between The Coca-Cola Company and the U.S. Department of State to sponsor a Summer Entrepreneurship Program for 100 students from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).