Growing up in an Arab-American family, Besan Abu-Joudeh was aware of the conflicts in the Middle East from an early age. She was born and raised in Richmond, VA – except for four years spent in the United Arab Emirates. These years, along with frequent family trips to Palestine, allowed her to be immersed in the culture and language of her heritage at a young age.
As a high school student, Besan enjoyed debate, model congress, and was intrigued by world politics. The summer after tenth grade, Besan volunteered with the Red Crescent summer camp in Palestine. This greatly influenced her decision to pursue development economics. “I was really drawn to the idea of contributing to the Middle East through an economic lens and advancing opportunities for people in the region,” she explains. “That’s why the Huntsman program was perfect. Its interdisciplinary nature allowed a holistic understanding of problems, and the development of unique solutions- something crucial for the Middle East today."
Outside of the Classroom
Penn gave Besan the opportunity to explore her interests in a global context. She was involved in a number of student organizations including the Penn Faith Fund, Penn Arab Student Society, and Penn Collaborating in International Learning (PennCIL). She was also active with Penn for Palestine and the founding of the Penn Dialogue Forum, which works to improve campus discourse surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. During her sophomore year, Besan worked with Community School Student Partnerships mentoring 5th grade students in West Philadelphia, and also worked with New Sector Alliance on a project pertaining to affordable housing.
Through the Wharton Leadership Venture, Besan served on the student selection committee for the Lipman Family Prize, a global prize awarded to an organization committed to transformational and transferrable work. As part of the selection committee, Besan traveled to Cambodia to conduct a site visit for a finalist whose organization addressed sanitation problems through a market based approach.
Education at Penn
While conducting research in the Middle East the summer after her junior year, Besan recognized the role of academic research on policy decisions and decided to use it as a platform for economic development. As a senior, she switched her concentrations from Business and Public Policy to Statistics to strengthen her quantitative background, and in the near future, she plans to pursue a Ph.D. in Economics.
Her Huntsman Senior Honors Thesis was titled: Exploring the Potential of Profit-Loss Sharing Models in Islamic Microfinance, a topic that developed following her experience in the microfinance industry. “I initially planned to explore the profitability of businesses that receive microfinance loans, and in the process stumbled upon profit-loss sharing models in Islamic finance.” Her research also explored the topic of economic justice in Islamic legal rulings and she hopes to continue similar research in graduate school. “The breadth of the Huntsman Program exposed me to so many different areas, and eventually helped me to discover my passion for this niche of research.”
Besan received the Thouron Award to pursue an MSc in Development Economics at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in the United Kingdom. “I’m excited for this opportunity to study in London, refine my research interests, and continue to explore different avenues of economic development.”