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Think Tank Problem Solver

Photo by Christine Irish.

Fluent in Arabic and English, with a working knowledge of French, Khalid Al-Naif ’81 is a business executive specializing in the design, development and implementation of international projects and programs. With more than 25 years of business development in the private and public sectors at JPMorgan Chase, Arab Bank, United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and AECOM International Consulting, his highly successful career turned to the nonprofit arena in 2007, when he joined the leadership team at the University of Michigan’s William Davidson Institute. The independent consulting, research and educational think tank develops and disseminates expertise on issues affecting the private sector, governments in transition and emerging market economies. Al-Naif is focused on solving problems worldwide from his base in Ann Arbor.

“Given the choice between careers in private, nonprofit and public sectors, qualified candidates generally save nonprofit as a last option because it is considered low paying and unreliable,” observed the native of Iraq, who holds a degree in economics from the Foster College of Business. Although he acknowledged, “You don’t make much money in international development,” the Davidson Institute made him an offer he could not refuse, attracting him “like a magnet” by giving him the latitude to build a consulting practice around his area of expertise and the opportunity to bring his field team to campus to achieve their objectives. 

Enhancing the Institute’s Outreach

Under Al-Naif’s leadership, the Institute’s development projects portfolio has grown more than 500 percent with more than 40 projects successfully completed or actively being implemented in more than 30 countries. “Even as we speak,” he noted, “I am monitoring teams on 18 active projects, operating in 17 countries and cutting across 15 different technical sectors. We have people on the ground in almost every corner of the globe making major development strides — against all odds. For example, we have an ongoing contract with the World Bank to upgrade the University of Liberia accounting department to meet international education standards. The department was devastated by the country’s two civil wars, and as a result, graduates are far below international standards and have trouble finding employment. When the Centers for Disease Control urged all U.S. citizens to avoid non-essential travel to Liberia last July because of the Ebola virus outbreak, the World Bank offered us a way out of our contractual commitments based on a loophole clause. We said, ‘No,’ because our contribution was critical for the future growth of the Liberian economy. Our work there has continued uninterrupted.”

Al-Naif described a similar situation in Kiev, Ukraine, last year, where the Institute is reforming the country’s legal and institutional framework, serving as a bridge between private-sector and government interests, building municipal capacity and implementing pilot public-private projects in selected cities. “When the call came in the middle of the night to evacuate Kiev because of civil unrest, our team opted to stay and continues to be there today,” Al-Naif commented. “I can’t speak for the people of Liberia or Ukraine, but I expect we have gained both the trust and respect of our counterparts there more so than the numerous foreign corporations and businesses that packed their bags and abandoned them at the first sign of trouble and when they needed help the most.”

Building a Proud Legacy

Despite his worldwide work and travels, Al-Naif was quick to profess that Bradley University gave him the best years of his life, emphasizing, “Nothing comes close!” He recalled the late Dr. Kalman Goldberg, professor emeritus of economics and his academic adviser and mentor, “had a major impact on my professional direction and thinking.” He added, “I wouldn’t be doing justice to the legacy of Bradley University without mentioning Dr. James Erickson ’61 MA ’66 [then-dean of men] who stood by us academically, socially and even financially through graduation and beyond. Dr. Erickson was like a second parent, and I will be forever indebted.”  

Al-Naif followed two older brothers to Bradley: Duraid Al-Naif ’79 is an investor in medical clinics and real estate in Chesapeake, Virginia. Jamal Al-Naif ’80 is a managing partner at a major investment bank and lives in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. “My youngest brother, Ali, attended Bradley for two years. He is a public relations executive in Amman, Jordan. Now, my son, Sebastian Al-Naif ’17, is majoring in construction management and also joined my fraternity, Sigma Nu.”

Funding and Networking  

“We have people on the ground in almost every corner of the globe making major development strides — against all odds.”

— Khalid Al-Naif ’81

In addition to his Bradley education, Al-Naif studied macroeconomic policy and management at Harvard University in 2002. He said his year there, funded by USAID, was priceless during the phase of his career that followed when he managed a $1.5 billion trade and investment sector reform program for the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and served as the CEO of Iraq Private Sector Growth and Employment Generation (IZDIHAR), a $154 million initiative to assist the government. “Both programs were funded by USAID,” he added.

With a comprehensive understanding of the power of funding, Al-Naif uses his earnings from the Institute to gift learning equipment, reading materials and teacher manuals to the first center in the Middle East and North Africa for children with autism, established by his sister. He adheres to the philosophy that the tallest man on Earth is one who is bending down to help a child in need.

Often contacted through LinkedIn by Bradley students and alumni for career advice in international development, he said he typically recommends they learn a language, especially the language of their region of interest, and technical skills that offer value. “I tell students and alumni to keep an open mind when looking for opportunities to work abroad,” he said. “I advise them to do the unsexy work. Professionals looking internationally want to travel all over the country, but this is not a vacation. They must be ready, truly open and able to do the work that is needed. They can’t go and only do the work they think is interesting.”

The recipient of an award for exceptional service in support of the United States Foreign Policy Objectives from former Secretary of State Colin Powell in 2004, Al-Naif said his greatest award comes from God each time he returns from an international assignment “alive, healthy and ready for the next deployment.”

— Karen Crowley Metzinger, MA ’97