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Made by paying it forward

Nawal Ghali, BCom’13

Director, Strategy and Operations at Salesforce
President, McGill Alumni Association of San Francisco/Bay Area

Nawal Ghali, BCom’13; Director, Strategy and Operations at Salesforce President, McGill Alumni Association of San Francisco/Bay Area

Born and raised in Montreal, I always dreamt of an international career, living in different countries. With that in mind, when the time came to apply to university, I sought schools with an international reputation, McGill being one of them, ranked #1 in Canada.

A big factor in my decision to attend McGill was the inspiring alumni community. I appreciated the fact that we have so many graduates doing incredible things, in many different fields. I also realized the invaluable network I would become a part of upon graduation.

My personal McGill story is that I met my husband in the Bronfman Building library. On a cold winter day, he proposed in the basement of the school, after I refused to follow him to the magical Christmas tree at the end of McGill College, where he had originally intended to get down on one knee. We both feel tied to the school; the campus holds many special memories for us.

When I graduated, I joined a local consulting company while my husband [then fiancé] left Montreal: first for a hedge fund in Boston, later to San Francisco where he started his own company. After two years long distance, he called me and said: “This is an incredible place, there are so many opportunities, you absolutely have to move to California”. And just like that, I took a leap of faith, quit my job, packed my bags and travelled to the Gold Coast.

I was a little doubtful of my ability to land a job. I didn't know if as a Canadian, I would be able to stand out in the American job market. That is where McGill made a big difference for me. When I arrived, the first thing I did was hop on LinkedIn to see which McGill alumni were in the area. From there, I started a marathon of networking. Every alum I spoke to was open to meeting with me and helping me navigate the world of tech. Ultimately, a fellow Canadian, introduced to me via the network, recommended me for a role at Salesforce, and that's how I landed my first job in the U.S.

In 2016, I joined the local McGill Alumni Association as a board member. My husband stepped in as the President of the branch, and we organized a flurry of events. I got so much energy and fulfillment from bringing the community together, not only for a happy hour but also around interesting topics and dynamic events: from a fireside chat with McGill’s Joelle Pineau, co-Managing Director of Facebook AI Research, to a presentation on Life in Space by Anja Geitmann, Professor and Dean, Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

I became President two years ago in 2018. When the pandemic hit, Karl Moore from the Desautels Faculty of Management reached out and offered to host a virtual event on introverts and extroverts. It was really successful -- not only did people from the Bay Area attend but we were able to draw alumni from all over North America.

Drawing on that experience, we decided to start an ‘all virtual’ series of events. In June, alumna Anastasia Bezrukova, who is Marie Kondo-certified, did an entire session on the Marie Kondo method. One of the many things we've all done, to some extent, being quarantined at home is cleaning our space. This event brought together the largest audience to date with over 200 people in attendance!

Later that same month, McGill alumna Kathleen Garcia offered to do a session for the new grads: “What should you do when there's a pandemic and you're looking for work?” She interviewed a McGill alum who graduated during the 2008 financial crisis. It was really interesting for our young grads to draw this parallel and hear some key advice from someone who had lived through a similar situation.

This summer we asked our community, ‘what are you interested in?’ We sent a survey, asking them to rank a number of topics and share additional ideas. Surprisingly, the topic of choice was “Traveling back to Canada”. Based in the Bay Area on visas, our alumni wanted to visit their family and work remotely from Canada for a few months. They were wondering: What does that mean? What can I do, and not do?

We hosted an event with an immigration attorney and soon after the Traveling back to Canada? Part 1 event. Some alumni messaged us saying ‘This was a great session, but actually I'm now interested in immigrating to Canada. Could you cover this as well?'

Therefore, the last virtual event we hosted in 2020 was: “Traveling back to Canada? Part II: how can I permanently establish myself there, what do I need to know?” Two alumni joined us for this event, Pavan Dhillon, Canadian immigration attorney, and Matt C. Altro President & CEO of MCA Cross Border Advisors.

Volunteering as president of the MAA of San Francisco/Bay Area has brought me a lot of new friendships, connections, and helped me build a broader network. It's my way of giving back to our community. When I landed in San Francisco, I was alone and didn't know anyone but my husband. Reaching out to the McGill Alumni Association gave me a landing pad, a place to go, people to ask advice from, and I wanted to give the same to the new people who would arrive in the Bay.