Nao Valentino, BSBA’04
A Policy of Unity
Nao Valentino (SMG ‘04) came from New York City to Boston University School of Management as an undergraduate in 2000. She graduated four years later summa cum laude after an active career at the School that included volunteering as a Dean’s Host and LOCK tutor, and working as a teaching assistant. After graduation she crossed the Charles River to Harvard University and earned a master’s degree in public policy, simultaneously working for the government of Dubai. At the same time, she created a social entrepreneurial venture in Afghanistan to help female entrepreneurs start businesses—a project that won the Pitch For Change competition at Harvard Business School’s Social Enterprise Conference in 2006. After working at a consulting firm in Washington, DC, Nao headed back to Dubai to establish an Entrepreneurship Center at the Dubai Women’s College in a joint venture between the United Arab Emirate’s (UAE) Ministry of Higher Education and the Mohammed Bin Rashid Foundation.
B&L: Why did you choose SMG?
Nao: Compared to other institutions, SMG was the only accredited program that guaranteed students world-class, tangible skills upon graduation, and this was the major draw for me. Also, a very influential mentor of mine, Mr. Glenn Brooks, SMG ‘85, was a testament to the quality citizens the School produces. Surpassing its promise, SMG more than prepared me for what was to come after graduation.
When and how did you develop interests in social change and business?
The relationship between public service and private enterprise has always been of interest to me, but my interest grew stronger as SMG opened my eyes to the extent to which the two sectors are interdependent. At Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, my SMG education helped me bring the business perspective to policy discussions in the graduate classroom and better understand just how business impacts the public sector, and vice versa.
How would you explain the relationship between business and social change?
Public problems cannot be solved in a vacuum by governments alone. Inviting private enterprise to participate in tackling some of the greatest issues facing humanity today is a win-win solution, and social entrepreneurs are increasingly harnessing the power of business resources, know-how, and innovation to improve lives all over the globe.
Why did you choose to work for the Dubai government?
I was eager to find a role that allowed me to employ private enterprise to achieve public gains. In managing the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Entrepreneurship Center in conjunction with the UAE’s Higher Colleges of Technology, I contribute to the social and economic development of the UAE and the Middle East/North African region by assisting budding entrepreneurs to launch commercial and non-profit ventures. These small enterprises are in essence the engines fueling growth in a region plagued with a number of economic and social problems, especially extreme unemployment of the large youth population.
Helping entrepreneurs succeed involves not only consulting with them to navigate the ins and outs of business licensing, start-up management, financing, and feasibility studies, it also involves advocating for small business-friendly public policy and legislation, forging relationships within the business and government communities, and creating opportunities.
How did your time at SMG help prepare you for your future career plans?
The skills I learned and the mentorship I received during my time at the School have proven invaluable in any role, inside or outside of the business community. I had many influential mentors during my time at the school, in particular Dr. David Weil, who continues to support me to this day. I walked out of SMG with the tangible and critical thinking skills necessary to successfully navigate any situation.
By Alissa Mariello
Featured in Builders & Leaders Fall 2009