- Why Colby?
- Request Information
- College Profile
- Scholars Program
- Student Perspectives
- Alumni Success
- For Counselors
- Contact Admissions
In Lebanon all the country's public libraries were destroyed during the 1975-76 civil war, and there is only one personal computer for every 25 people. Many schools don't have one machine, even for administrators. However, computer use by Lebanese children recently received a boost thanks to Helena Bonnell Gilman '78, Microsoft's marketing services manager for the Persian Gulf and eastern Mediterranean.
With a Microsoft grant for community affairs and money from her own marketing budget, Gilman created an electronic library that opened in June at the Beirut Children's Science Museum. "The museum is very participatory," said Gilman, who previously had worked on smaller community affairs projects in the Middle East. A once-vacant museum room is now the Microsoft Electronic Library, complete with computers, software and trained instructors. Local schools pay $1 per person to cover the fees of running the library, making the program self-sufficient. For her efforts Gilman received one of Microsoft's 2000 Best Practices Awards for addressing local needs worldwide.
Based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Gilman promotes Microsoft's products in 11 countries, including the five Persian Gulf states plus Jordan, Lebanon, Cyprus, Malta, Pakistan and Syria. Her responsibilities include advertising, public relations, the Internet, direct mail, event planning and community affairs.
"I wanted to live outside the [United States], get my M.B.A. and I didn't speak a foreign language," she said of her initial move abroad. After earning her M.B.A. from City University Business School in London in 1987 Gilman worked in marketing at BP Oil's United Kingdom office. She and her two sons followed her husband, also an American, to Dubai in 1993 after he pursued a job there. Gilman had never traveled to the Middle East before. "Anyone who is open-minded can cope with anything," she said.
In fact, Dubai is very cosmopolitan, Gilman says. The UAE itself was created in 1971 and is very modern. "The disadvantages are that there is no culture or history," said Gilman. "The advantages are that everything is new. It has a high standard of living." The country's economy depends heavily on oil, but recently UAE created an area known as Dubai Internet City. "They want it to be the Silicon Valley of the Middle East," said Gilman. "They have all of the major software companies out there."
She says American misconceptions about the Middle East abound. "People think it's very backwards. What you see on TV are riots and poverty. The UAE is technically categorized as Third World, but it's an up and comer. Countries that want to move forward can. They can get today's latest technology, put it in and start to use it as a trigger to boost their economy."
Gilman says that doing business as a foreigner presents some challenges. "Things aren't as structured as we're used to," she said. Also, pirated software use is widespread in many countries. "The concept of plagiarism is not taught in school," said Gilman. "The challenge is to get across the idea of intellectual property rights law."
Gilman deals primarily with Europeans and Americans but also with government officials and customers who usually are Arab men. However, she says that despite some culture and nationality issues, "it's pretty much the same as doing business anywhere." In what spare time she has, she also serves on the American Business Council of Dubai's board of directors and the Dubai Department of Economic Development's information technology advisory board.
Gilman plans to stay with Microsoft after her Dubai stint. In December she will become the corporate affairs manager for Microsoft Europe, Middle East and Africa, based in the company's European headquarters in Paris. As for future community affairs projects, Gilman has a to-do list. Next stop? Jordan, where the king has expressed an interest in promoting information technology. Alicia Nemiccolo MacLeay '97