Fatima Albassam
Home Region

Alkhobar, Saudi Arabia

Undergrad Education

University of Richmond

Previous Experience

Jonnah, Saudi Aramco

HBS Activities

Consulting for Impact Club, Middle East and North Africa Club

“The way they teach at HBS emulates reality.”

In 2017, when Fatima Albassam was working in her home country of Saudi Arabia as a business development analyst for Saudi Aramco, she began making volunteer service trips to Jordan to support Syrian refugees.

“While there,” Fatima says, “the camp director asked me what I thought were the biggest problems refugees faced. I thought it was poverty, health, the need for shelter, but the director came back with one word: idleness.” The camp itself offered 200 jobs, for which more than 7,000 people applied.“It’s not just about income,” says Fatima. “It takes a psychological and emotional toll.”

Collaborating with a friend, Nouf, Fatima launched Jonnah, a nonprofit that would help women with sewing skills get the materials, space, and services necessary to run a garment business. By August 2018, they had successfully launched their first collection of “minimalist designs and modest wear.”

“I realized that this is what I want to do the rest of my life, run a social business,” says Fatima. “But I felt that the nonprofits I was working with were limiting their impact because of a lack of management and finance skills.”

A demanding, yet balanced learning environment

When considering an MBA program to advance her skills, Fatima felt that, “If I were to leave work and family for two years, I wanted the best education possible. The way they teach at HBS emulates reality. With each case, you have limited information, but you still need to come to class the next day with a decision you have to defend in front of very smart people. With the extra input you get from them, you either confirm your decision or pivot.”

“It’s much more demanding, in terms of schoolwork, than other programs,” Fatima says. “Participation is fifty percent of the grade and you have two to three cases every day. Honestly, I found it exhausting, but it’s a learning curve. After a few months, it gets better: you know what to focus on or not; you become more efficient.”

But life at HBS is not all work. In December 2019, Fatima married Bader Almubarak; the couple lives in Cambridge while she completes her degree. “I’m surprised how conscious the school is about our families and other commitments. Family, health, and even hobbies matter and are valued here.”

As Fatima seeks an internship, she’s looking for an opportunity to work in the U.S. social sector. “I want to learn about different policies and their effects, and learn about different business models: what’s successful and what’s not.” Eventually, Fatima would like to return to Saudi Arabia, “to develop the social sector. Today it’s underdeveloped and not outcome-based; money is not allocated in the most efficient way. While I'm here at HBS, I want to get the transferable skills that will help me back home.”