The Gemstone of the INSEAD GEMBA

Laith Najjar

The title of this article is quoted from one GEMBA alumnus in a conversation we had over zoom prior to the start of the GEMBA programme in a networking session during the daunting lockdown periods in 2020. I vividly remember his exact words:

As much as I will tell you, it’s difficult to do justice to the experience you’d undergo in the electives during your GEMBA journey; it’s the gemstone of the programme.

Now that I have completed the electives, I couldn’t agree more with his statement. Living through an experience is not the same as hearing about it, and I can devote my reasoning to why it is a unique experience for many reasons, due to the following:

The People

Just when I thought that I have met people from all parts of the world in my career and lifetime, the on-campus electives experience humbled me once again. It shed light on how much more is out there by being part of such a group of diverse, smart, and driven individuals whom you get to spend two to three weeks together.

What amplified this experience are the 16 months of COVID-life we had in the world prior to the electives starting – people were really striving to socialise and get to know their peers in different locations of the programme. Being an ambivert person, it was an empowering experience that expanded my boundaries, forming some lifetime friendships.

The Balance

While the electives are a pre-requisite for completing the GEMBA, this module did not feel like a purely academic trip – it was rather an engaging and conversational experience with top-tier faculty and peers.

I believe this is due to two reasons: (1) each student chose elective classes that are of interest to them unlike core courses which are mandatory for everyone, (2) professors know how to strike the balance between academics and practice from the wealth of experiences in class, while allowing time to socialise after class rather than assigning heavy after-class group work. This proved to be a great strategy to diffuse academic stress while still being able to learn and network, as the module intended to provide.

The Pursue of Specialisation 

Given that electives are sequenced to be right after the core modules (that are standard for all students), they are an opportunity to define your specialisation in areas/topics that align with you aspirations, interests, and career. Personally, that gave me a push forward to choose from 30+ offered subjects that align with the targeted shift in my career and industry that I am working towards. 

The Alumni

This splits into two folds. First, it’s refreshing to meet alumni that have had few years passing after their GEMBA programme, and provides a great perspective on different dimensions of life after GEMBA, in addition to getting the opportunity to network beyond your own cohort. Secondly, it’s a pleasant reminder that you’ll be able to come back as an alum every year to experience different electives – one of the privileges of being an INSEAD alum. 

I Stayed in a Castle!

Yes, you don’t get to do that every day! Fontainebleau, the area where the INSEAD campus is located, is culturally rich – we were able to experience it as a group of friends from the cohort by renting an ancient castle for two weeks. On one of the nights we hosted a good number of students in the garden of the castle for drinks and bites. A picture is worth a thousand words.


Some experiences are meant to encourage you to take a leap forward, without knowing what’s on the other side. For me and many of the other GEMBA participants, the electives module was an important milestone (and a trigger) to have faith in the process and take on our next challenge with courage, openness, and confidence.

Looking forward to joining the electives as an alumnus in the coming summers.