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Meet our UN Women Australia Global Executive MBA scholarship recipient

17 April 2024
Global Executive MBA student driving change in social protection systems
The University of Sydney’s Global Executive MBA program was the perfect fit for Elena Pak, who has always been passionate about international relations, gender equality and global development.
Headshot of UN Women Australia Global Executive MBA Scholarship recipient Elena Pak

Elena Pak, Global Executive MBA student and UN Women Australia Global Executive MBA Scholarship recipient.

Elena is a highly committed and mission-driven individual who inspires others through her desire to make a positive impact on the world. This is the essence of who she is, and always has been since childhood.

Growing up in Kazakhstan, Elena credits the sacrifices of her parents, her Mum in particular, who raised her and her sister during turbulent economic conditions, “my family was my rock, and they still are,” said Elena.

While studying economics and political communications at Turan University in Kazakhstan, Elena pursued her interest in driving change in gender equity and social justice.

"I wrote papers on global conflict negotiations and democracy and defended a graduate thesis on political speech and dictatorship in Kazakhstan. I took a class in feminism and social change and completed a graduate certificate in leadership studies," she said.

After graduating from Turan University, Elena received a scholarship to do a Masters degree in Communications in the United States. She later joined the Atlantic Council, a leading US think tank in foreign affairs based in Washington DC. Elena also became a director of several initiatives, such as the Black Sea-Caspian Energy Security Forum (presently the Istanbul Forum), The British-North American Committee, and International Advisory Board, comprised of former cabinet-level officials and global CEOs. Elena held executive leadership roles at United Way, a poverty alleviation non-profit in New York, as well as Girl Scouts USA, and the Fred Hollows Foundation USA.

Taking on new challenges

Elena took the bold step in 2023 to transition from the not-for-profit sector to a for-purpose business, accepting a role at Development Pathways, a global consultancy with expertise in crafting and implementing social protection systems. Elena is responsible for the Australian operations and the company’s South/South East Asia-Pacific portfolio, including the Australian government’s Partnerships for Social Protection program in the Pacific.

“One of the main reasons I joined Development Pathways is the company’s commitment to gender equity, disability inclusion and economic empowerment,” reflects Elena.

Why the Global Executive MBA?

Elena applied for the UN Women Australia Global Executive MBA scholarship for a number of reasons including the reputation of the course itself.

I don’t know many MBA courses that would offer a truly global view on leadership and business. Each cohort has an opportunity to access learning across four continents: Australia, Europe, Americas and Asia. The program is unique and incorporates my love for different cultures.
Elena Pak

Added to this, Elena notes the calibre of teaching staff, as well as the immense senior management expertise amongst the diverse student cohort. Because of this, Elena believes the Global Executive MBA will offer her a unique opportunity to gain multi-dimensional insights and to learn from other students’ experiences.

The Business School’s partnership with UN Women Australia was also an important consideration for Elena, stating that “UN Women Australia promotes gender equality, so that was a big deal as it’s important to me that the program has intentionality to attract more female leaders,” said Elena.

“I also have a family, an intense full-time job, as well as a non-profit board role at the Indigo Foundation, so my life is pretty full on. The Global Executive MBA’s format of five dedicated two-week modules makes undertaking study possible for people like me.”

Driving change with passion

With learnings from the Global Executive MBA, Elena is keen to help Development Pathways grow in the Southern Hemisphere by implementing an innovative business strategy and expanding Development Pathway’s gender equity and disability inclusion portfolio. Elena plans to do this by improving the company’s current business model in Asia-Pacific by identifying, up-skilling and contracting Australian and regional experts in social protection.

Elena also has plans to make Development Pathways a competitive employer with a diverse and talented workforce through an inclusive culture and Reconciliation Action Plan.

Ultimately, Elena is thoughtful about receiving the scholarship, “When I saw how many amazing women applied for this opportunity, I didn’t expect to be the one to receive it."

"I am very grateful to the University of Sydney Business School and UN Women Australia for the scholarship. It does add an extra (big!) responsibility of making sure that I succeed in this course, and that this trust and investment are impactful,” considers Elena.