The first time I ever heard of an MBA program was when I was 13 and my brother was showing me around his University. “There’s the Teacher’s College. And there’s the law school – many top lawyers come out of there. And that building houses the MBA program, which is famous for producing some of the world’s most evil people.” Ok, so I’m not getting an MBA, I thought at the time. At least not from THERE. (Out of respect for the many fine people who went ‘there’, I’ll leave out the name.)

However, after only a few years had passed, I was already committed to using for-profit tools to realize the change I wanted to see in the world. The problem was that I kept getting signals that business wasn’t for me. My college economics professor told me I just didn’t strike him as a business person and should go into academia. I was denied my first consulting job because, as it turned out, they thought I was too ‘thoughtful’ and that it would clash with their business culture. And even after some successful stints in entrepreneurship and consulting, many of my passions still sound like they are more often found in the domain of the nonprofits, making me fear I would feel isolated and out of place at any MBA program – INSEAD included.

I love being wrong

Without even starting a single class, it’s clear that I was wonderfully wrong! Soon after my acceptance, I discovered a hyper-active (in a good way) online community of my future classmates, self-organized to such efficacy that I would’ve thought it had been set up by the school itself. Parallel Facebook and Slack communities for the INSEAD 18J class were bursting with introductions and excited responses, meetups, interest groups, and even trip proposals. But even more exciting was the non-self-conscious, unreserved, unqualified positivity and warmth that came through the conversations.

One student – Mohammad Ashgar – began chatting with me about his time in Saudi Arabia working for the Islamic Development Bank. We then traded stories of inspirational, market-driven humanitarian programs that most fascinated us and discussed which ones might be viable in other markets. Another, Peter Morgan, debated the economic impact of migration policy with me while also sharing his thoughts on the business opportunities of blockchain technology. A third, Ana Lozano, eagerly weighed the pros and cons of impact investing with me as we discussed the most effective ways to promote large-scale economic development through business. And a fourth, Francis Thomas, not only happily shared about his work experience at a potential dream employer of mine with me but also started helping me strategize on how to get a job there, myself. And all of this was without meeting any of these amazing people in person.

Unrealistic dream trip: Go!

Out of our earlier conversations, Mohammad and I decided to propose a trip to the Middle East with a focus on economic empowerment and entrepreneurship. After crowdsourcing ideas, the plan is looking like it will be a reality, with a sizable group of us visiting a special economic zone and refugee camp in Jordan as well as a tech hub in the newly opened city of Rawabi in the West Bank. Further additional side trips to other regional cities are also in the works, as well. We were inundated with interest and offers to help organize and co-lead – something for which I am deeply relieved and thankful as this will be quite an undertaking. But the thirst for meaning-filled endeavors and careers is clearly present in this community.

When I started actually meeting my future classmates in person, the feeling that these encouraging first impressions made were solidified. Almost regardless of industry, talk of aligning profit with purpose proliferated all of our conversations, whether it be talking about health tech to address global pandemics (thank you, Alison Rhines!), clean energy finance and consulting to address the needs of our environment (thank you, Matt Bevins!), or the use of Private Equity to empower emerging markets (thank you Abdelaziz “Biso” Sarhan and Céline Fauconneau Dufresne!). Activities and meetups are being planned daily. Resources are being shared. And positivity permeates every interaction. Inclusivity and collaboration is the overarching feeling here while competition and social pressure seem to have been left behind.

To be fair, classes haven’t even started, and the intense stress of sleep deprivation and job search has yet to descend, so I could be writing with a very different tone in my next post. But given everything I’ve heard and what I’ve already experienced, I’m not losing sleep over it. I’d rather lose sleep having more exhilarating conversations with my new classmates instead.