When Fulbright alumni come together, no problem is too big to solve. This was the unofficial message of the Fulbright Alumni Regional Conference on Natural Resources that was held in Cairo, Egypt, from December 4-8, 2016. This event was the first in a series of seminars designed to bring MENA region alumni together around common professional themes. The Conference on Natural Resources attracted former Fulbrighters working in fields as diverse as cancer research and meteorology. However, all participants had a passion for studying the complex relationship between humans and their environment.
Adnan Saddiqi, Counselor for Public Affairs at the U.S. embassy in Cairo, set the tone for the conference when he opened by saying, “Some of the most important natural resources are human resources.” How true this is for the Fulbright program. Fulbright students, scholars, and alumni are invaluable resources. Here is a telling example: after each conference attendee presented their current research and held a Q&A session, there was a flurry of business card exchanges, suggestions, and proposals. There was also interest in future collaboration among these participants. For example, conference attendee Grace Araj, an architect from Lebanon, invited Jordanian architect Maiss Razem to help her develop a new sustainable architecture project—even though they had just met. In addition, this event truly had a multiplier effect, as conference participants promised to connect one another with friends and colleagues spread across the globe. For instance, after Nataly Naser Al Deen’s presentation on the use of organic chemical compounds to treat cancer, a line of Fulbrighters formed, all eager to discuss their own medical research, as well as to receive Nataly’s contact information so they could connect her with relevant colleagues. The eagerness of these passionate Fulbright alumni is a testimony to the limitless potential of the Fulbright network in the MENA region.
While the spirit of collaboration was encouraging, the most promising aspect of the conference was that the attendees resolved to continue to build on their connections by expanding alumni activities in the region. In a session titled, “Engaging the Alumni Network,” they brainstormed ways to enhance cross-border alumni collaboration. Their answers included holding digital meetings, engaging with one another via social media, forming new alumni groups, and volunteering through joint Fulbright alumni grants. It is remarkable how so much was accomplished during a three-day conference. In that short time, these alumni leaders not only advanced the field of natural resources, but they also furthered the Fulbright mission by creating meaningful and global people-to-people connections, all while strengthening the Fulbright alumni network.