Arab-American Heritage Month Profiles of USGLC State Leaders

May 2, 2024 By Elizabeth Onibokun

The USGLC is proud to have a wide and deeply engaged coalition of government, business, military, faith, and humanitarian leaders committed to building a safer and more prosperous world for all. This month, in celebration of Arab-American Heritage Month, we are shining a spotlight on two of our Advisory Committee members, the impactful work they are carrying out in their communities, and why leading globally matters locally.

Mortada Mohamed is the President of the World Affairs Council of Austin, Executive Director for the Texas International Business Council, and a member of the District Export Council. Prior to his present position, he was the Regional Trade Director for Europe, Africa, Middle East, for the State of Texas, Office of the Governor, Economic Development & Tourism Division. He is a member of the USGLC Texas Advisory Committee.

As president of the World Affairs Council of Austin, how would you say we best benefit from U.S. global engagement in our day-to-day lives? How have you seen it personally affect your local community?

It’s vital for the U.S. to be engaged with everything happening in the world — more importantly, the things that impact our economy. The more peace and stability we have in our global marketplace creates opportunities for all of us. When you look at Texas as an example, it’s the number one exporting state in the nation. Over 3 million jobs are supported by international trade so it’s extremely important that we be engaged. Not just for our own economic growth and development, but so that we can aid emerging markets that are more vulnerable to instability and support the economic development of those countries. It does help us a great deal to be engaged by helping stabilize these regions because now with the way we have the global economy, any changes — downturn changes in particular — in one country or one region will impact us here.

In your opinion, what are some important myths to dispel about U.S. global leadership and how it impacts us here at home?

Our democracy is a constant work in progress. We promote democracy well and our version of democracy is not what it’s like in other countries, but the rest of the world needs to understand that there is no such thing as a template. We’ve been through a lot, and it takes years to accomplish it. I put a lot of emphasis and importance on the role of organizations like The World Affairs Council. Our clear role is to engage Americans in an understanding of our decision-makers and the current issues of our time.

From your experiences as Regional Trade Director of Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, can you speak to the important role played by the economy in ensuring our overall security and stability?

When I was representing the state of Texas, as far as promoting export and trade agreements, our state was leading in about 30 industries — aerospace being a key one. In my state office, my success came from engaging all relevant parties so that things would move forward. This helped a great deal in ensuring that we have the infrastructure to deal with the world. The fact that every party was involved from the start meant all voices were represented and aided in our overall economic prosperity.

Part of the mission of the World Affairs Council of Austin is educating and engaging residents of Austin and Texas on global issues. What motivates you to do this work?

I would say that the number one thing is the internal drive I have as an immigrant and the niche I have being born in Egypt and emigrating to the United States. I had a sense of what being a global citizen meant. Secondly, working and being really entrenched in the system at all levels — government levels, industry levels, private sector, numerous summits, and workshops — I came to realize that there is a role we as citizens have to play to make the whole thing work successfully. I realized that citizens would not support anything unless they were informed and without the support of citizens, there’s not much we can do. When it comes to issues being discussed in DC, many people don’t know what’s going on, so I saw the gap that needed to be filled.

As we say here at the USGLC, “leading globally matters locally.” What does that phrase mean to you and what are the greatest implications of global leadership for us here at home and abroad?

It’s not cliche to say that anything that happens in the international arena impacts us. Our engagement and leadership must be part of our own welfare and prosperity to ensure we are not taking what we have for granted. Our communication with the world should go two ways. We must be good, informed citizens to play that important role and be engaged. It’s our obligation and commitment to work with organizations such as the USGLC to get the word out that we have to be informed. Organizations like the District Export Council, which I am honored to be a member of, also continue to increase awareness and understanding of America’s role in the world.

You can follow Mortada on Linkedin

Learn more about the USGLC in Texas and the Texas USGLC Advisory Committee.

Tariq Fanek is a programs director at Global Detroit and leads the strategic planning and tactical design for Global Detroit’s Opportunity Neighborhoods program. Fanek is a member of the 2023 class of the Next Generation (Next Gen) Global Leaders Network of the USGLC. He is also a member of the USGLC Michigan Advisory Committee.

Can you speak to the work you do at Global Detroit? How do you engage with the community and how does that extend to our international connections?

Global Detroit is a non-profit focused on community and economic development from an inclusive perspective and it focuses on how we can include immigrants and minorities into the conversation about economic development. Part of our work aside from policy advocacy tends to also go with local initiatives, how we can support small businesses, how we can work with global talent initiatives, how we can bring entrepreneurs who come in through visas, how can we keep them in Michigan? It’s important for us to shed light on how we can integrate immigrants and refugees into the system and not be a country or a community that is not welcoming. We need to have a basis for a welcoming economy.

Is there a particular success story, whether it’s a local business, or a young entrepreneur, that you’ve encountered in your time with Global Detroit that really sticks out?

There are so many businesses and entrepreneurs who came in on a visa, they launched their tech startups, they’re working on electric vehicles, they are being recognized nationally, and all of these moments lead to impact stories. It’s the same thing with local businesses. A lot of local businesses, either restaurants or hardware stores, have brought a lot of opportunities for growth in local business corridors. They are going beyond to support other businesses in the area, so it’s great to witness them becoming community leaders in their own right and advocating for other businesses to grow just like they did.

Can you speak about the important role the economy plays and how that directly connects to our overall stability and security?

I think when people think about economic stability, most people tend to think about all the major large companies, but they fail to realize that there are almost 33 million small businesses across the United States. That is a huge number. Even when these big companies go through massive layoffs, these small businesses are still there. They’re still the backbone of their communities helping to create that stability. By having a more inclusive environment, that allows immigrants and minorities in the United States to identify opportunities, create success stories, or go back to their country of origin and share their success stories, which also creates more jobs locally, and which creates more jobs internationally as well.

What has been your main source of motivation over the years and in your career?

I think my motivation is to leave the community and the world a better place than when I found it. My passion is figuring out how I can connect and be an advocate between the people in the field and the people making the decisions. As an immigrant, I’ve had the opportunity to see what this country allowed me to do, and I want to make sure that it’s protected. Because this country gave me the opportunity to be who I am, and it gave me the space to pursue my dreams.

We tend to focus a lot on the negative side. But let’s also celebrate that there’s successes happening for Arab and Middle Eastern communities in the United States, from education to community and economic development. I want to make sure everybody has a voice, and this country gave me the voice that I currently have right now. I want to make sure everybody else across the world gets that same opportunity.

As one of our Next Gen Members, how have you integrated your lessons into the work you do now?

I was able to make connections across the United States, with people who share the same passion that I do, for how we can maintain democracy, maintain a conversation, and amplify the voices of people across the world. The lessons I learned on messaging and how we need to be creative were also incredibly impactful. So when I connect with our elected officials, I’ve used those skills of how I can use my messaging for better advocacy. We’ve been able to get people to agree on policies, in a purple state like Michigan, and I’ve seen the impact those policies have made.

As we say here at the USGLC, “leading globally matters locally.” What does that phrase mean to you and what are the greatest implications of global leadership for us here at home and abroad?

For me, just to take it to a personal level, if the United States was not present, I wouldn’t be in a position where I would be able to emigrate and contribute to a country that has helped build my country of origin — Jordan — in so many ways. And from an economic perspective, U.S. global leadership opens doors for so many. Often small businesses don’t realize that you cannot do business internationally without USAID or the State Department, helping you navigate the process and about what’s going on. It’s ignorant of us to think we should only focus on ourselves because if others are in a bad situation, we will not be able to thrive and we will not be able to succeed. All these big corporations could not expand and hire more individuals without international development.

So that’s kind of the connection I see between what’s happening locally, globally, and personally. How I’ve benefitted off of such great development from the United States in Jordan and now as a U.S. citizen, I’m here to help build this country and see future generations live in prosperity.

You can follow Tariq on Linkedin.

Learn more about the USGLC in Michigan and the Michigan USGLC Advisory Committee.