2024 Best & Brightest MBA: Nura Smadi, IESE Business School

Nura Smadi

IESE Business School

“A strategic thinker anchored in compassion and adaptability, dedicated to positive change and sustainable impact.”

Hometown: Bucharest, Romania

Fun fact about yourself: Growing up with a Romanian mom and Syrian dad, in a household where two languages, religions, cultures and customs were nurtured in harmony, has vastly shaped my own outlook on the world – a product of this has been my eagerness to learn, travel, explore, understand, and cherish diversity.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Duke University, Bachelor of Arts with majors in International Comparative Studies and Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (Arabic Concentration).

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Senior Regional Programme Officer at Relief International / Middle East Regional Support Office in Amman, Jordan

I started my career in the humanitarian sector after graduating from Duke University. My first role in 2017 was that of a Technical Writer in Za’atari Refugee Camp in Mafraq Governorate in the north of Jordan. This was my first field-based post, supporting a community-based protection programme for the nearly 80,000 Syrian refugees living in the camp at the time. In the years that followed, I took on grants and project management roles at a regional level to support the implementation of humanitarian projects across the Middle East, including education, health, nutrition, water, hygiene and sanitation projects in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Turkey, and Yemen. I greatly cherished the mission-driven team at Relief International, which fostered an environment of care, respect, and commitment to serving the vulnerable communities in which it intervened.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2023? Strategy and Development Intern at Humanitarian Logistics Cooperative (HULO)

HULO was established in 2021 with a mission to amplify the effectiveness of humanitarian aid by fostering stronger connections among humanitarian logistics stakeholders. This is underpinned by the idea of optimising logistics, supply chain, and expertise through cooperation and resource pooling. Having come from the humanitarian sector prior to the MBA, I pursued this internship opportunity with HULO because it allowed me to shift away from program management and learn more about supply chain and logistics challenges affecting the sector. I was able to apply some of the skills and concepts from IESE’s first year courseload in the multi-year strategy definition and review as well as the development of marketing collateral, both of which were pillars of my work for the summer.

Where will you be working after graduation? In a role that sits at the intersection of sustainability, international development, and strategic partnership management.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

* Forté Fellowship Recipient

* Social Impact Scholarship Recipient

* Responsible Business Club Leadership Team: As a first-year director in RBC, I was involved with the content team in developing the panels and managing the speakers at the 2023 Doing Good Doing Well Conference. The DGDW conference takes place on a yearly basis and has been taking place for the last 21 years at IESE Business School. The conference focuses on bringing together MBA students from IESE (and beyond), faculty, alumni, and industry professionals to delve into topics related to responsible business and sustainability. During my second year in the MBA, I took on the Executive Vice President role which entails leading the overall planning of the 21st edition of the conference in 2024. In this role, I worked with an amazing and diverse team of content, operations, marketing, and sponsorship leads to bring it to life and welcome more than 30 speakers and 300 conference attendees to campus.

* Middle East and North Africa Business Club Leadership Team: The MENA club has represented home to me while on campus. Coming to IESE after six years in Jordan, it was wonderful to find a sense of family and home with the MENA cohort. I was involved in the club as a first-year director, and as a Vice President of Culture during the second year. My role has entailed ensuring that others feel the same sense of home and belonging that I felt when I arrived at campus. In this vein, I have led the organization of events for our members and the broader IESE community to connect and learn about the region.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? For sure, my involvement in coordinating the planning of the 21st edition of the Doing Good Doing Well conference. The experience of leading a wonderful team to bring the event to fruition has been very rewarding, fulfilling, and empowering. I have felt a deep sense of purpose behind the organisation of the event, as it aims to bring together a diverse array of stakeholders that are interested in sustainability, responsible business and overall having a positive impact in the world. The experience has pushed me to reflect on my leadership style, my relationship management approach with internal and external stakeholders, and ability to marry high level strategic thinking with day-to-day execution.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I joined Relief International as a Regional Programme Officer in the Middle East Regional Support Office in February 2020, right on the onset of COVID-19. While the rest of the world slowed down due to impending lockdowns, humanitarian crises in the region just ramped up. The months that followed were some of the most intense in my professional career, as my regional team worked to ensure swift contractual amendments with our institutional donors, prepositioning of supplies and navigating access constraints to ensure that vital services (such as health, education, and water, sanitation, and hygiene) were not interrupted. I am particularly proud of my team’s resilience and commitment in these months, and I consider it an achievement because our purpose driven environment persisted despite the vast global uncertainties posed by the pandemic.

Why did you choose this business school? When I applied to business school, I knew that I wanted to go to a top school in Spain. There were other alternatives in my selection process that loosely met these criteria. However, what was incontrovertible about IESE was the sense of community and camaraderie I felt even before I set foot on campus.

Before making my decision, I had the opportunity to attend a virtual alumni panel and a current student panel, participate in an Open Day event, and interact closely with my admissions focal point (also an alumni). What stood out from these various touchpoints was how genuinely and fondly both current students and alumni were talking about their experiences on campus — the common thread among all was the community aspect. The idea that I would have a strong and supportive community for the two-year program and beyond appealed to me, and it is something that I highly value, next to strong academics.

IESE has certainly held up on its promise. I have had a strong support system on campus from day one and know that it will continue well beyond the program.

What was your favorite course as an MBA? One of my favourite courses has been the “Doing Business in Africa” module, which takes place during the winter term in Nairobi, Kenya and taught by Professors Todd Johnson and Heinrich Liechtenstein. It was an intensive one-week course packed with insightful sessions, guest speakers, company visits, negotiation exercises, and peer learning with MBA and other master’s students at Strathmore University, our host during the module. The full experience was very eye-opening for me, as I had never been to Africa before and there was so much I did not know. There still is. However, this enriching experience laid a foundation which I can use to continue learning, be inquisitive about the rapidly evolving context and opportunity landscape, and potentially also explore career opportunities in the region.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? The one thing that comes to mind is perhaps being more involved in the variety of student groups and clubs on campus, outside of the ones in which I took a leadership role. There are so many interesting events and initiatives on an ongoing basis organised by my peers, especially from the IESE Startup & Entrepreneurship Club, Tech Club, Women in Business, and more. They are led by amazing student leaders and offer a wide range of interesting and engaging opportunities to learn, network and grow.

What is the biggest myth about your school? What I had heard about IESE before arriving to campus revolved a lot around the case teaching method, the diversity of the cohort, and the sense of community that underpins the overall experience. All of these were very true in my experience — I was able to conceptualise and absorb many of the core concepts through the hundreds of cases read thus far, to make friends and new connections from quite literally all corners of the world and feel like I am a part of a global and supportive community.

What did you love most about your business school’s town? Barcelona is simply amazing. It is vibrant, diverse, and full of art, music, and life. I have loved the easy access to the beach, hiking trails, other Spanish cities along the coast and beyond, live music, and so much more. I would not choose to be anywhere else for these two years. On the contrary, I hope to live in Spain at some point in my life, if not right after the program ends.

What surprised you the most about business school? Perhaps it was a preconception, but I anticipated the MBA to be cut-throat and very competitive. Don’t get me wrong, my peers are very ambitious and competitive to the extent that they want to grow and excel, but I feel like the fabric of the IESE community is rooted in community, peer support, and helping one another succeed. Coming from a very non-traditional background compared to most of my cohort, I was worried that I would not be able to keep up in the more technical courses of the program, which for me included the finance, accounting, and operations courses. However, with the support, patience, and help of my MBA team and peers from my section, I was able to not just “keep up” but really enjoy and succeed in these courses, which I initially found intimidating.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? It is very hard to choose, as I am surrounded daily by remarkable, talented and inspirational individuals that come from all corners of the world. The IESE MBA cohort is truly a mosaic of unique, smart, and ambitious future leaders and I am very humbled to be a part of this two-year journey with them.

As I have to choose one, I would say Tania Gomez, a member of the IESE MBA Class of 2023. Tania has left a very meaningful impact on me as an individual and leader. Among many things, Tania was the Executive Vice President leading the coordination of the annual Doing Good Doing Well conference for 2023 and I had the privilege to be a first-year director under her leadership. Organising a 350+ person conference is no easy task, yet Tania exuded a marvellous and consistent sense of calm, decisiveness, and assurance in her leadership of our team. She was generous in her guidance, calming in her support, and inspiring in her drive and energy. These are qualities that inspire me, and I hope to emulate and carry forward in my own teams and leadership.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? Leading a cross-functional team towards a common goal in the international development or humanitarian sector and working in a new region such as Africa or Latin America.

What made Nura such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2024?

“As a student in my Sustainable Entrepreneurship course, Nura impressed me with her knowledge, active engagement, and strong passion for sustainability. Her curiosity and willingness to explore topics in depth are remarkable, as she consistently sought to understand beyond the basics. Her team’s project to support healthcare workers with depression and anxiety showcases her skill in understanding complex needs, developing innovative solutions, and effectively presenting them to a broad audience. This work not only highlights her academic excellence but also her empathetic approach to addressing significant societal challenges.

At IESE Business School, Nura has taken her commitment for sustainability to new heights in her leadership at the Responsible Business Club. Nura is currently leading the organization of the Doing Good Doing Well conference—a student-led annual event that draws hundreds of participants and features an array of panels, discussions, and networking events on sustainability topics. Her initiative to amplify the focus on social issues within the conference program further underscores her commitment to driving meaningful change. Nura’s exceptional leadership, academic excellence, and dedication to sustainability make her an outstanding candidate for the Poets and Quants Best and Brightest award. Her achievements reflect not only her personal values but also her potential to inspire and lead in the business community.”

Desirée Pacheco
Professor, Entrepreneurship

“Nura is a hard-working, focused, enthusiastic individual and along with her academic performance, is an excellent candidate for this recognition. Furthermore, she represents IESE’s values of spirit of service and is a key member of the student body and IESE community. I have been working closely with Nura these past few months on the “Doing Good Doing Well” conference, which is student led with a main focus on sustainability.  Nura’s excellent communication skills have allowed her to collaborate seamlessly with a diverse group of individuals involved in the conference and has been leading a team of students on this project while always working in a professional manner with the MBA office. In conclusion, I wholeheartedly recommend her for your consideration and have no doubt that she will continue to excel and positively impact any initiative she undertakes.”

Steph Tait
Coordinator, MBA Program


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