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Inside the MBA World Summit with Two Berkeley Haas MBA Students

MBA World Summit

Every year, one hundred of the top MBA students worldwide are selected to attend the MBA World Summit out of an applicant pool of 3,000. This once in a lifetime opportunity brings together driven individuals from across the globe to expand their networks and debate some of the most pressing issues of the time. From March 14 – 17, 2018, it was a three-day immersive experience in Cape Town, South Africa that focused on social impact.

Throughout the week, MBA students participated in various workshops and conferences put together by inspiring business leaders and companies such as Amazon, Good Game, and BASF. The experiences revolved around collaboration culture, high-impact exchange, and interdisciplinary approaches to global business, and social issues.

A hundred MBA students join forces in Cape Town. —Photo courtesy of Berkeley Haas

One such event was the Social Impact Day, where students traveled with residents to visit villages and understand the business problems they face. Another opportunity involved pairing with aspiring entrepreneurs in the Khayelitsha community to share ideas. And yet another involved experimental “lab sessions” where students could dive deep into selected topics.

For two Berkeley Haas School of Business MBA ’18 candidates, Hejar Oncel and Hien (Sunny) Nguyen, it was an incredible opportunity to explore their own interests and learn from others. It was also a chance to be ambassadors for two of Haas’ core principles: “beyond yourself” and “question the status quo.”

“It’s a unique opportunity where you get to meet some of the most interesting people in the world, learn from them, build great friendships (despite the short time you spend together), and have a lot of fun,” Oncel says. “It’s also very enjoyable to visit an exciting foreign destination and get immersed in a new culture.”

For Oncel, the Summit was a chance to understand more about his research into water availability, wars, and sustainability. While for Nguyen it was a chance to dive into building a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem. In both cases, they each had many opportunities to discuss their ideas with other like-minded MBA students.

“Today’s world is separated yet connected much more than ever. I believe that future leaders from the MBA programs should think beyond the border of our countries to solve the world’s problems,” Nguyen says. “There is no other place that you can meet with 100 most inspiring MBAs around the world like in this summit. It’s definitely a highlight part of my MBA.”

Oncel and Nguyen gave us a sneak peek of what it was like to attend the Summit in an interview.

MetroMBA: What was your favorite part of the MBA World Summit?

Oncel: This year’s focus was social impact, and the selection of South Africa was very meaningful for me. I’m very passionate about the fight against poverty and also about sustainable water usage. Now, Cape Town is not only facing ethnic tensions and troublesome inequalities despite post-Apartheid efforts of more than two decades, but it’s also dealing with one of the worst water crises in the world.

Having the opportunity to work with young entrepreneurs from impoverished, historically-segregated townships and helping them scale their business allowed me to be a part of the fight against income equality. I also ran a workshop on how businesses can be structured to both benefit and profit from sustainable water usage practices.

Lack of access to water is one of the main reasons behind the wars in the Middle East, and as a Kurdish student, I faced the first-hand consequences of them including ethnic cleansing and unacceptable poverty levels. For that reason, being able to promote business leadership in responsible water usage was very precious to me.

Nguyen: My favorite part was watching the performance of the kids in the Philippi township. Philippi was called “the murderer township”—one of the poorest and most dangerous places in Cape Town. The kids there do not have access to quality education, and often, they are the victims of drugs and crimes. Thanks to a group of young volunteers from the Summit, including Roman Fernandez and David Tang, they are empowered to show themselves and tell their stories through dancing and singing. The kids brought to all of us the brightest and purest hope for the future of Cape Town, South Africa, and the world.

Nguyen in Philippi, a township that has transformed into an entrepreneurial hub. —Photo courtesy of Berkeley Haas

MetroMBA: What was your biggest take away from the Summit?

Oncel: If leaders of the future (such as MBA’s from top global schools) get together more often, we can learn from each other and create a more connected world. We can discover ways to disrupt the conventional business wisdom and create value not only for shareholders but also for the society at the same time. This requires genuine efforts, creativity, connected minds, and responsible leaders. And the Summit is the incubator-on-steroids for this.

Nguyen: Mark Zuckerberg said, “The challenge for our generation is creating a world where everyone has a sense of purpose”. During the summit, I and other students discussed today’s most pressing problems, exchanged real-life lessons, and brainstormed breakthrough solutions that will improve the world we live in. It sounds like such a big thing, but it actually starts from simple actions such as teaching the kids to dance, or giving one-hour mentoring for an entrepreneur. Everything is possible.

And when asked if they could sum up their experience briefly, Nguyen called the Summit “engaging and transformational” while Oncel spoke about learning from and teaching his peers, building “amazing friendships” and visiting “amazing places.”

To learn more about the MBA World Summit, visit the website. Applications for 2019 will open this summer.

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About the Author


Kelly Vo    

Kelly Vo is a writer who specializes in covering MBA programs, digital marketing, and personal development.

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