Prioritizing People and Other Firsthand Lessons of Leadership

Portrait of Lulu Al Mutawa in front of the Babson World Globe

Lulu Al Mutawa MBA’22 knew that she would have to overcome obstacles as chair of Babson College’s student-run Global Entrepreneurial Leadership (GEL) Forum, a two-day event featuring well-known speakers and interactive workshops meant to highlight entrepreneurs from around the world.

She just didn’t realize how many.

First, the GEL forum’s chair of finance and operations left only months before the event was scheduled to be held on Babson’s campus. Then, the director of speakers—the person responsible for booking an international lineup of busy, well-known entrepreneurs—had to bow out days later.

“I dealt with a lot of adversity and challenges,” Mutawa said, adding that she initially signed on to the project as the marketing director. But, as key leaders left, Al Mutawa stepped up to take on the additional work.

“I have a side of me that just kicks in during a crisis,” she said, adding that she also applied the problem-solving methods she learned at Babson, “and I was definitely excited to shape this event.”

‘Quality Time’

The GEL Forum, which went off without a hitch on March 24 and 25, included more than 20 speakers weighing in on global entrepreneurial businesses featuring food technology, Latin American cinema, and e-commerce unicorn startups among other international organizations. The second annual forum replaces three large annual events: Babson Entrepreneurship Forum, Babson India Symposium, and the Babson Latin America Conference.

Attendees interact during the GEL Forum at Olin Hall
Babson’s Global Entrepreneurial Leadership Forum featured interactive workshops and more than 20 high-profile speakers.

“I’m incredibly proud of how special this experience was and of the opportunities we were able to give everybody who came,” Al Mutawa said, adding that many of the speakers, such as NASA program scientist Dr. Kartik Sheth, a Mumbai native, spent extra time with student attendees.

“Just to see Dr. Kartik, this inspiring guy who once worked at the White House, hanging outside Sorenson Theater and having discussions with students about design thinking … it was beautiful,” Mutawa said. Pablo Zamora, another featured speaker who co-founded an AI-driven, plant-based food startup called The Not Company, also connected with attendees throughout the forum.

“I think a defining feature of this event was how accessible, warm, and open all our speakers were,” Al Mutawa said. “They were genuinely interested in spending quality time with students, and I think that’s part of what made this experience so special.”

Overcoming Obstacles

Those joyful interactions seemed far away in February as Al Mutawa worked to organize the first ever in-person GEL Forum despite a loss of team members.

“When I took on the team, they were actually ready to quit. We still had a mountain of work ahead of us, and it was very overwhelming,” Al Mutawa said. “But, this is where I learned the most important lesson about leadership.”

Planning the GEL Forum is volunteer work that takes a significant amount of commitment and motivation, and Al

A speaker addresses an audience in an auditorium.
Attendees interacted with many of featured entrepreneurs at Babson’s Global Entrepreneurial Leadership Forum, which was held in-person on campus.

Mutawa realized she needed to provide inspiration in order to rally the team of 12 students still working to deliver the two-day event.

“As pressure started to increase, stress started to rise, and I noticed that communication started breaking down,” Al Mutawa said.

Unsure of what to do, she reached out to Kate Buckman and Katherine Worthington in Graduate Student Life and Leadership.

“They suggested I plan a dinner, so I invited everyone over to my house,” she said, adding that she decided to hold off on discussing the GEL Forum. “It was amazing. We played games all night and talked about what it means to be on a team. It was exactly the bonding we needed to carry us for that last push.”

Leadership Lessons

The team-building dinner that Al Mutawa hosted, and the renewed commitment that came after it, was a key lesson in leadership for her.

“The most important part of being a leader isn’t finding solutions. A leader isn’t doing all the work, even though they should be there working just as hard as anyone. A good leader empowers their team and lets other people shine,” Al Mutawa said.

“My job was to inspire, to keep people going, keep them organized, and help problem-solve. It’s all about interacting with humans, and the many complexities that each human holds. I think the dinner is when I started to see that side of this job.”

“I think a defining feature of this event was how accessible, warm, and open all our speakers were. They were genuinely interested in spending quality time with students, and I think that’s part of what made this experience so special.”

Lulu Al Mutawa MBA '22

It’s very different work than Al Mutawa’s previous job in biotechnology, where she was a research assistant at the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research. With graduation only weeks away, she now realizes she has always had a flair for leadership.

“This experience has built confidence in my leadership abilities. I realized that my leadership ideals, which focus on cooperation instead of competition, are just as strong as others,” Al Mutawa said.

Running the event offers experiential learning for Babson graduate students, and Al Mutawa said she’s grateful she had the chance to make mistakes under the watchful guidance of Babson’s faculty and staff.

“My biggest takeaway is this: It’s all about people. It’s all about culture. It’s all about community,” Al Mutawa said. “The work is important, but without these things, you will not be able to persevere long enough to complete the work that you need to, and certainly not to the maximum potential possible.”

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