Gradberry: the Linkedin for Students and Graduates Globally

There is an old saying that goes “necessity is the mother of invention”. It is a saying that still holds true for today’s young entrepreneurs.

Before me sits Iba Masood, a twenty-three year old Dubai-based entrepreneur and finalist of the Cartier Women’s Initiative Award who, together with her co-founder Syed Ahmed, has developed an web-based career portal that helps address one of the world’s most worrying trends: rising youth unemployment.

In 2011, Iba founded Gradberry, today the leading careers portal for student internships and new graduate jobs in the Middle East. ‘We focus exclusively on internships and vacancies for students and fresh graduates with zero to two years of experience,” explains a bubbly, energetic Masood during our interview at the Women’s Forum in France earlier this month. 

With over 10.000 unique viewers and 300.000 pages views each month, Gradberry clearly addresses a burning need among recent graduates in the region. And if this early success (the Beta-version of the site launched in November 2011) is a sign of things to come, the site’s future looks bright, also in other parts of the world. 

Iba, an honours graduate from the American University of Sharajah (UAE), learnt the harsh difference between student life and the working world even before she left the cocoon of campus.

“As we entered the final months of our studies, we had two ways of trying to find a job: via the big multi-nationals that came to campus to court final year students – but let’s face it: how many students could they employ; or by trawling job sites in search of internships and entry-level positions that all demanded “3 to 5 years experience”. Not only did we not have the experience employers demanded, I was also lost for direction in finding jobs that I could apply for, and I was wasting time that I simply did not have in the lead-up to my final exams,” Masood explains. 

Tough economic times weren’t making matters easier. When her class graduated in 2010, economies were shrinking and unemployment rates rising, which also meant plummeting job opportunities throughout the Middle East.

The region today faces a whopping 24% youth unemployment rate.  “These are tough times for young graduates, I can tell you. Here I was, graduating at the top of my class and yet I couldn’t find a job,” sighs Iba. 

The child of two entrepreneurs (her parents run a diesel supply business), the last thing Iba was taught to do was sit still and do nothing. “Everything becomes outdated so quickly these days… I realised that every day I sat at home waiting for the perfect job to come along took me a step further away from the ever-changing realities in the job market. The best thing I could do is get a job as an intern so I could learn and apply what I had learnt at university to stay up to date.” 

Iba didn’t let the grass grow under her feet. During her studies, she had already spent time as an intern at McKinsey & Co and Dubai Islamic Bank. Soon after graduating she started as financial analyst trainee at GE Healthcare.  But her entrepreneurial roots soon pulled her to what she knew best: starting her own company. After a short stint at a local public relations firm, Iba approached Syed Ahmed (Gradberry's co-founder and current CTO), with the idea of a graduate careers portal. “As a fresh graduate of Mechanical Engineering, with some serious talent in design and project management, Syed was facing similar issues with the graduate job market. He loved the concept and came on board as a co-founder. We set up the initial domain, registration and design, and created the website with $200.” 

“The reason behind the site is obvious. Looking around me I saw so many young people fresh from college or university struggling to find a job – any job,” says Iba. “With Gradberry, our aim was to connect employers, graduates and universities through a single website, and allow students to find internships and entry-level positions that require no experience.” 

“Things are moving fast,” smiles Iba. “We've had over 8,000 students register on the site and over 150 employers, ranging from Google to Philips, are using it to hire interns, student freelancers and new graduates.” 

Our next goal? “To become the Linkedin for students and graduates globally, the primary method of finding fruitful working opportunities for the youth through social networking."

Diversity consultant and Brussels-based journalist Sabine Clappaert is dedicated to covering human rights issues and development as they intersect with women inside and outside Europe. Clappaert has published work in De Morgen and Flanders Today (Belgium), Pink Ribbon magazine, The Bulletin, IPS News (UK/International) and Destiny Magazine (South Africa). 

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