Syrian refugee awarded UN Women Australia MBA scholarship

5 March 2024
From Paris to Damascus, Erbil and now Sydney, this global citizen aims to blaze a trail for women in leadership everywhere she goes.

Chantal Mousad’s unique journey to Australia has given her a passion for diversity, equity and inclusion – an area for which she will advocate as the latest recipient of the UN Women Australia MBA Scholarship at the University of Sydney Business School.

Ms Mousad’s determination to overcome adversity have been on display since age 10, when her family moved from France to Syria. Learning a new language and culture did not prevent her excelling at school, but rather than study medicine or law as her family would have preferred, she elected to pursue a degree in economics.

Her greatest challenges were yet to come. After conflict erupted, Ms Mousad’s twins were born prematurely and died after 15 days in Syria’s war-torn hospitals.

The tragedy left her determined to leave Syria and, shortly after the birth of her daughter, she relocated to Iraq and continued her successful career in banking. She reached the position of Chief Risk Officer at Region Trade Bank, where she was the only woman in the 13-strong executive team.

It was while in Iraq that she divorced from her husband and found herself rejected by her community as a result.

“I was determined to give my daughter a better future without limitation on her imagination, and to have freedom for me as a single mum, so I applied to come to Australia,” Ms Mousad said.

“I came with nothing but a few bags. But that was my plan: come to Australia with my daughter and build a great life.

People were always asking me if I had culture shock, but it was the other way around. I found it was others who had a shock when meeting people like me: refugees who are qualified, educated, have big dreams and a great commitment to this country and the opportunity given to us.

Despite a successful career in international banking, Ms Mousad struggled to have her qualifications and experience recognised in Australia.

Non-profit organisation CareerSeekers helped her land a role at the Commonwealth Bank, and she now occupies a senior position in risk management at Westpac.

Ms Mousad also gives back through her volunteer roles as a board member with CareerSeekers and an ambassador for Happy Brain Education.

She said the opportunity to undertake her MBA at Sydney will help her long-term goal to be a changemaker for diversity, equity and inclusion.

“I didn’t get this scholarship because I was the smartest or most educated, but because of what I’ve achieved and want to achieve – my story and my dream. It’s not enough just to talk about gender equality. You need to advocate for women, for refugees, for Aboriginal people, and anyone who does not have equal opportunity.

“Commerce and economics are both a branch of politics. If you make a change here you can make a change in people’s attitudes and behaviours, and a change for the future.”

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Harrison Vesey

Media Advisor (Business)

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