A man of the world, John Sakakini worked in Middle Eastern diplomacy before moving away from politics and beginning an MBA, concentrating on marketing, and tourism and hospitality management, at the George Washington University School of Business.
During his two years spent working for the Palestinian Delegation to the United States, John witnessed Palestine become a UN non-member state. He then went on to work for UNRWA USA, a non-profit supporting the UN Agency for Palestine refugees.
Previously, he was based in Jerusalem working for American Near East Refugee Aid, where he was tasked with improving the Palestinian tourism industry, before returning to work in the US at the Arab American Institute and for USAID, the US government’s international development organization.
An all-round George Washington University man, John studied international affairs and Middle Eastern studies there as an undergraduate and now works in the university’s MBA admissions office as a marketing assistant, alongside pursuing his MBA.
Why did you decide to study for an MBA?
I felt there was something missing. I wanted to switch out of non-profit and move into the corporate side, and use the skills learned [on the MBA] to transition into a role of marketing or brand management.
What is life like in Palestine? In a period of escalating tension, what are the hopes for the tourism industry?
Every time I visit I have a rollercoaster of emotions. I see so much good in some areas and so much bad [in] others. For tourism in Palestine, there are a massive amount of challenges, mot least with access; everything has to come in through Israeli-controlled borders.
There is a lot of religious tourism — visiting the holy sites in Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Jericho, among others — and now there is also an increasing amount of “occupation tourism”, where people come to see the wall, the checkpoints, to meet the farmers who live on the edge; to see what their lives are like and what is not reported in the news.
The situation is very fluid; things change on a day to day basis. But right now, violence is starting to flare up again. As a Palestinian-American and as a humanitarian, I want to stay positive and optimistic that one day peace will come to the region.
Why did you choose to study at GWSB as opposed to other international business schools?
The funny thing is, when I first started looking at business schools, I avoided GWSB. I wanted to run away, I wanted something different. When I was researching schools and looking at what I wanted from an MBA experience — a strong international focus, a small class size and different concentrations —GWSB kept coming back and back. In the end I felt it was the place I wanted to be. I’m very happy I made the decision to return.
What was the hardest thing about the MBA application process, and do you have any tips for current applicants?
The GMAT, one-hundred percent. I would have loved not to have taken the GMAT! Looking back, maybe I should have just taken the GRE and called it a day. Though it was a hurdle, I have no regrets. I’m in the school I want and enjoying every moment of it.
Really look at the schools and the student make-up. Pay attention to what you want out of the program and where you want to be afterwards…Look at where alumni end up and if they are places you want to be.
What makes GWSB stand out for you?
It’s a truly international school. My class is over 50% international; a real mix of people from Asia, Europe and South America. We also have one of the highest percentage of female MBA students at 40%.
There’s a mandatory consulting abroad project where you spend the spring semester of your first year working with an international client on a real-world issue they have. Then, after finals, you visit the client in their home country and give them your final pitch.
There are also full-semester as well as short-term study abroad opportunities during your winter break and spring breaks. In January, for example, I’ll be going to Paris and Luxembourg to work on branding strategy with Kinder Chocolate.
We have also done a lot of “soft-side” work with the careers center. They discussed everything from what you should wear to a business function to proper etiquette at a dinner party; how you should act and what you should and shouldn’t drink!
What are your plans for the future?
We’ll see how things pan out over the summer. I currently have two offers for the summer and am weighing up my options. I’d like to be involved in brand management and marketing — ideally for a large company with a strong corporate culture that has a real commitment to their employees and customers, in addition to having the potential for future growth.