Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Why Saudi Arabia Is Blocking My Website From Its Citizens

Only a few days ago, I heard from a friend who had traveled to Saudi Arabia on business. From his hotel, he tried to access our first website, PoetsandQuants.com, and couldn't get through. It was blocked by the government. I was as surprised as anyone by the news. After all, the site isn't commenting or encouraging any of the uprising across the Arab/Muslim world. It isn't a public policy or political site. It doesn't voice Democratic ideals, freedom of speech, or any other rights, privileges or responsibilities we all take for granted in the U.S.

The site is about graduate business education, for goodness sake. The stories are on business schools, MBA programs, students, faculty, and corporate recruiters. The articles can be probing, but mostly on the value of an MBA degree, the increasingly higher cost of getting one, and the quality of the institutions that grant the degree. So why in the world would Saudi Arabia, or probably more likely some low-level censor in that country, want to block PoetsandQuants.com from Saudi citizens.

And then I remembered a rather brief article we ran under the headline: "My Story: From Saudi Arabia to Wharton." Published last October, it's the first-person narrative of a young woman and her remarkable journey to the U.S. to pursue a world-class MBA. It tells the story of Shereen Tawfiq, the first ever female student from Saudi Arabia at Wharton, who courageously challenged centuries old cultural values rooted in male dominance.

After graduating with an English Literature degree from a Saudi university, Tawfiq wanted to, in her words, "do something challenging that could have an impact on life. But women employment was limited. The only options were found in women-only environments such as teachers at girls-only schools or tellers or customer service representatives at women-only retail branches of local banks."

Tawfiq got lucky. The Saudi government began imposing quotas to increase Saudi employment at large institutions. A bank in Jeddah hired her to replace a poorly paid expat. She began an administrative job, worked hard and tried to get a better position as a credit analyst. But Tawfiq was rejected many times.

As she told us, "the bank's management didn't say it was because I was a woman, but I think society just wasn't ready. I kept pushing and, at last, eight months later, I got the job. My manager congratulated me, yet he candidly told me not to look for any promotions. The business community wasn't ready to accept women and business owners may have felt uncomfortable dealing with them directly. 'I'm not willing to jeopardize the bank's reputation,' my manager said."

All in all, it's the story of a woman who relentlessly worked to get ahead--and in fact managed to break through several barriers. It's an inspiring tale. And I suppose that's why Saudi Arabia has blocked my site: So other women in Saudi Arabia won't be inspired to rise above the prejudice and the traditions that have kept so many intelligent and thoughtful women down.

Introducing Poets&Quants for Executives

Today was a big day for C-Change Media and yours truly. We finally launched our second website in the network. It was not "Slingshots for David," our upcoming site for disruptive entrepreneurs, as had been planned, but rather an extension of PoetsandQuants.com. The truth is, PoetsandQuants has been such an outstanding success that it made more sense to build on the site's strengths and cover an adjacent and important market: education and training for executives. Thus was born PoetsandQuantsforExecs.com (above), what we hope will become a go-to place for managers and executives in search of personal growth in the form of an advanced business degree or a thoughtful non-degree course. 

We debuted the new site with more than 50 stories and profiles, including a new composite ranking of the 50 Best Executive MBA programs in North America and plenty of people stories on how these executive students are balancing their work and home lives with the demands of getting an MBA from a top B-school. Our features will literally bring you around the world: we profile executives in Shanghai, Dubai and Norway who are enrolled in tough EMBA programs. We write about outstanding schools and unusual partnerships among them in Spain (IE Business School and Brown), London, and China. 

We found an extraordinarily diverse group of fascinating people pursuing the degree: a former opera singer at Columbia Business School, the mayor of Oklahoma City at NYU's Stern School of Business, an eye surgeon at Chicago's Booth, and a brain surgeon at Duke's Fuqua School of Business. And then there is the Microsoft executive who broke a cardinal rule for EMBAs: don't change much in your personal or professional life at the start of a rigorous EMBA program. She broke that rule twice, first by taking a more demanding job at Microsoft and then getting pregnant.

And just as we did at PoetsandQuants.com, the site is filled with analysis on the rankings and the value of the executive version of the MBA. We tear apart all the major rankings, examining each of their strengths and flaws. Embarrassingly, we found that U.S. News currently ranks Stanford as having a top-rated EMBA program. Oops. Too bad Stanford doesn't have an EMBA program. As always, our goal is to surprise and delight you with the stories we cover--but most importantly to inform in a way that helps you make an important decision in your professional life.

We hope you like the new site. Same look and feel (see below our first site). Different content for a different audience.