Laying Foundations of the Future—A New City in Palestine

Guest Student Contributor, September 08, 2014 | 0 comments
Tags: Center for Business, Government & Society, Tuck GIVES, Social Impact

Raphael Bonacci T'15By Raphael Bonacci T'15

Prior to starting my MBA at Tuck, I worked in corporate finance and corporate strategy in London. I have gained a tremendous exposure to clients across a broad range of sectors and geographies on capital raising and M&A transactions, and on strategic initiatives. Most importantly, I have acquired a set of technical and soft skills, which combined with the general management education at Tuck, allows me to apply and solve business challenges across a broad range of disciplines anywhere in the world.

When I came across the opportunity to spend my summer in the West Bank through the Tuck Center for Business & Society, I felt that this might be the only opportunity I’ll have to gain exposure to one of the boldest entrepreneurial journeys in the region. Rawabi represents one of those rare occasions to embrace an experience where strategy and social impact intersect, working as a consultant to address some of the organization’s business challenges resulting from the difficult geo-political situation.

Background on Rawabi

For those not familiar with the project, Rawabi is the first planned city in Palestine and a privately funded project. The vision for Rawabi is to create an affordable and environmentally sustainable residential community in the West Bank that will become a hub for a knowledge-based economy, fostering growth and development, and contributing to stability in the region. Rawabi will consist of a population of 40,000. It is currently the largest construction project and employer in the region.

In this context, it is not surprising that Rawabi receives high-level diplomatic and economic delegations from around the world. Delegations from the US, UK, France, and from many other countries have visited the city in the last year. Students from top US business and diplomacy schools visit Rawabi on a regular basis as part of study trips that aim to increase students’ global awareness. Tuck and Harvard students are now taught the Rawabi case study as part of the school’s MBA curriculum.

Experiential Learning

My initial discussions with Bashar Masri, the Managing Director, helped me identify some of the most pressing challenges that his teams are facing and how best I could add value based on my experience and the learnings from my Corporate Strategy, Leading Organizations, Leading Individuals and Teams, Operations Management, and Marketing classes at Tuck. During the summer, I conducted market research on the local residential market, articulated a strategy for the residential neighborhoods, and refined Rawabi’s marketing strategy through workshops with a cross-functional team.

The organization faces many challenges, and employees have to look beyond established solutions because of the political situation and the restriction of movements of goods in Palestine. A large part of the work I undertook aimed at identifying how best to create and implement an actionable strategy. One of the key challenges we faced was how to identify the specific customer base for the residential units that will help Rawabi realize its vision as a "great place to live, work and grow."

Raphael Bonacci T'15 Rawabi

To address this issue, I led several workshops with a cross-functional team of employees to help the team think differently about their customers. A Tuck marketing professor also visited Rawabi and delivered a mini-course based on his innovative research on customer insights. I was impressed with how the participants were engaged in the discussions and how far they took ownership of the outcome of the project by the end of the summer. Interestingly, the workshops also fostered a collaborative approach across all departments, and launched team-building activities.

The timing of the internship was a challenge in itself. The tension between Israel and Gaza had just started escalating again, only a few days after I arrived, leading to another war. Luckily, the situation in the West Bank was quite different than that in Gaza. Aside from regular incidents at night, life continued as usual for me, despite the risk that the situation might degenerate unexpectedly. Unfortunately, the situation didn’t improve during the summer. People were in tears with the human losses and felt powerless with all that was happening.

Now, at the end of the summer, in spite of the difficult situation, I am incredibly thankful for the experience. Rawabi gave me another perspective on the meaning of determination and hope. It is an example of resilience in the face of harsh political and economic conditions and achieving success in the face of numerous obstacles. It was inspiring to work alongside the team contributing in some way to achieve the hope of thousands of people so their dreams for a better life can become reality.

Photo courtesy of Rawabi Foundation/Bayti Real Estate Investment Company

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