When I announced my intention to undertake an MBA a little over two years ago, I elicited confused reactions from several well-meaning friends and colleagues. Their sentiments can be summed up as, “Why on earth is someone with a background in government and the non-profit sector doing an MBA?”
I understand their confusion - it remains a pervasive misnomer that MBA's are solely for current and aspiring corporate leaders. However, having done my research, which included attending some lively MBA taster classes, I was confident in my assessment that the University of Sydney's part-time MBA was truly a generalist leadership training ground, which transcends professional industries and sectors.
Two thirds of the way through my studies and I stand by this assessment: I am proud to be part of an incredibly diverse student cohort which, in addition to the usual suspects, includes doctors, journalists, engineers, and social workers. Learning from one another is an integral part of the program’s richness.
While I have relished the opportunity to expand my knowledge of the business world, something I have yet to experience in my career to date, I have also been provided with - scope to tailor my assessments and experience to my areas of interest. I have considered the impact of a hypothetical breakdown of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement on one of Australia’s largest horticultural exporters; I have developed growth strategies for non-profits I volunteer with; and I have developed the skills to effectively and empathetically coach staff through career changes and other challenges.
However, for me, the most valuable aspect of the MBA program has been the exceptional opportunities I have been afforded beyond the classroom. In early 2019, I was fortunate to be selected as a member of the University of Sydney Business School’s team to compete against 19 of the world’s top business and policy graduate schools at the World Government Summit’s Global University Challenge in Dubai. The teams were provided just 72 hours to develop a solution to the problems facing a fictitious failed state. Once again, I recognise that the diversity of background in the team was a true strength, and one which enabled us to examine the complex scenario and our proposed responses through a range of lenses and constantly test our assumptions. Ultimately, this led us to apply a venture capital solution to support government service delivery, for which we placed second overall.
The opportunity to tackle ‘wicked problems’ was presented to me once more last month, as I set off for Bangalore as part of the MBA’s International Social Enterprise Project. This was an incredibly humbling experience as I learnt that my non-profit and international development experience did not fully prepare me for the extraordinary complexity of developing a new enterprise in an already crowded market. In just seven days my teammates and I achieved a great deal: we listened, we learnt, we pivoted no less than three times, and ultimately we developed and pitched a tech-based solution to address the challenge of contaminated drinking water, which affects a large proportion of Bangalore residents.
The MBA journey has accelerated my development as a leader and I am incredibly thankful for the support of Mr Anstice, through the Anstice MBA Scholarship for Community Leadership, for supporting my completion of the program. I wholeheartedly recommend other emerging community leaders consider applying for this wonderful opportunity.