Graham-Pelton is pleased to welcome Samir Farrag as Senior Consultant.
A focus on International Affairs in graduate school propelled Samir into the multi-faceted world of fundraising. Development married his passion for the greater good with his natural ability to connect with others. And it’s still a perfect fit.
Prior to joining Graham-Pelton, Samir served as Senior International Major Gifts Fundraiser – MENA at King’s College London, where he managed a portfolio of over 70 prospects and led multiple fundraising trips to the Middle East & North Africa region, one which included the President and another which included the Chairman.
Previously, Samir was the Senior International Alumni Manager also at King’s College London. In this role, Samir led and developed the International Alumni strategy, which delivered engagement activities to over 49,000 international alumni, and was also responsible for the overall International Volunteer structure, including managing nine alumni committees in the USA, China, and South East Asia. As the Alumni Engagement Officer at SOAS, University of London, Samir was responsible for alumni activities in North America and the Middle East & North Africa, including the management of the Board of Directors for the American Friends of SOAS (a 501c3).
In addition, Samir interned at the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and has volunteered at the British Red Cross.
Samir recently shared his thoughts on best practices in international fundraising, what has served him well in navigating development in higher education, and why working in the MENA region was especially meaningful for him and not without some surprises.
What first interested you about working in development?
During my master’s programme, I focused on International Development and wrote on the Iraqi refugee crisis. Soon after, I saw an opportunity at the UN Refugee Agency in London for a fundraiser in their external relations department. As I reviewed the position qualifications, I realised this might be a good fit for me. They were essentially asking in the announcement, “Are you extroverted?” And, “Do you like to engage with individuals? Do you like communications?” I easily answered yes to all three. I got the position, and ever since that first experience, it feels like I’ve leveraged being a natural extrovert and turned it into a career in a field that I care about.
Working in the higher education arena means sometimes navigating many different layers of leadership and politics as you work towards a shared goal. What traits do you think have served you well in doing this successfully?
Trying to be as positive and solutions-oriented as possible has been beneficial. Also, not making assumptions about people and really trying to understand where someone is coming from is helpful. When I worked at King’s College London, I was a fundraiser for the University as well as three hospitals. It was a very complicated matrix structure since each one of the hospitals also had its own CEO and side charity. So there was a lot of leadership and a host of different personalities that we worked with as we fundraised for client research projects that went amongst all of them. Taking the time to foster the relationships with internal stakeholders there was paramount. My previous study in politics may have been a good thing in understanding personal dynamics and getting the lay of the land, as well. I had to really help people understand how what I was doing could benefit them and others.
How do you approach internationally focused development projects? There must be certain challenges that are specific to them, especially as it pertains to events.
With international engagement, I think the main challenge lies in not falling into certain traps and thinking carefully about what you want to accomplish. When I approach international engagement, I try to think about the different markets and consider, holistically, what we are trying to achieve. Some of the big traps I’ve witnessed are schools wanting to spend big and go to fancy hotels. In contrast, some of the most quality engagement I’ve ever seen internationally has occurred at alumni and donors’ homes, where people were really connecting and making meaningful relationships. When it comes down to it, international engagements are not really about the events but the relationships and the network. Practically speaking, it can be challenging with regards to differences in time zones, cultures, and languages. But being flexible and not being married to your plan helps since things often change. Also, always double-checking what the public holidays are in the country you are going to is important. For example, trying to go to China or Hong Kong in February or March when it is Chinese New Year might not be the best time to make the trip.
What was it like being the first dedicated fundraiser for the Middle East on behalf of King’s College? That seems like it would be a unique opportunity.
It was unique, and it was also a fulfilling opportunity for me personally, too. I’m Norwegian and I was raised in Norway, but my father is from Sudan. However, I had never lived there. So I already had a strong interest in the Middle East region of the world because of my heritage and what I had studied in politics. Being able to finally close that loop and work in the region was exciting for me. I was doing market development, particularly focusing on Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Oman, and Qatar. It was amazing being the first one solely dedicated to development there because I had the opportunity to map out how the institution was going to further engage, set the scene, and prepare leaders for what to expect.
Do any experiences particularly stick out about your fundraising trips there?
I was meeting with three potential donors. One of them mentioned, “You’ll have to stay longer. We’ll take you to the desert.” It could have sounded very daunting if that meeting had not gone well. But in Saudi Arabia that is what they do: go out into the desert on the weekends and set up a camp. So they were trying to showing me hospitality. People are so generous there. You have to be careful about what you mention as being “nice” because they might kindly “force” you to leave with it.
What was it that attracted you to Graham-Pelton?
At CASE Europe 2012, I attended a workshop by Elizabeth Zeigler [Graham-Pelton’s President and CEO]. I was also seated next to Elizabeth and Craig Leach [Graham-Pelton’s Founder] at the gala dinner there. That’s how I first learned of Graham-Pelton, and ever since then it has been on my radar. Fast forward to within the next month where I will be presenting alongside Elizabeth at CASE-NAIS 2019, and it has really come full circle. Overall, the culture and the values at Graham-Pelton really reflect and resonate with what I’m about. I’m happy to be on the team, and I look forward to helping our clients do great things.
Contact Samir directly via e-mail or by calling 0207 060 2622.