Three lessons from my MBA journey.
Passion is good, but experience is better.
When I applied to SBS in 2016, I was a VC lawyer for impact investors and social enterprises who wanted to do what my clients were doing. I had been bitten by the social impact bug a few years prior while clerking for a judge at the Supreme Court of India, where I realised that social problems were far too complex to be solved by public institutions alone. While reading up on alternative approaches, I came across Ashoka’s Bill Drayton and his concept of the “social entrepreneur”, and a lightbulb went off in my head – of course that’s what’s missing: we need to align profit and purpose, we need to bring the creativity and capital of the private sector to the social sector! I was so taken by this epiphany that I shot off an embarrassingly eager email to Ashoka India. They were kind enough to entertain my meeting request but gently pointed out that, while my enthusiasm was palpable, I had no relevant experience whatsoever. This led me to explore opportunities to earn my stripes within my field, and landed me a job with a small, up-and-coming law firm in Delhi that served impact investors and social enterprises. Here I learned the intricacies of setting up social ventures and negotiating rights on both sides of an impact investment deal; I got to understand market trends across sectors like health, agriculture and education, and what made an innovation investible. Looking back, Ashoka’s feedback was pivotal because it taught me that passion alone will not land you a job in social impact. Just like any other industry, the sector requires demonstrated knowledge and experience. Without these, I probably would not have succeeded on my MBA application, nor would I have been able to make the most of the experience.
Your fellow MBAs may be your biggest promoters – I owe two post-MBA jobs to them. When you start on a one-year MBA programme, it’s easy to get quickly caught up in networking mixers and coffee chats with prospective employers. However, I cannot emphasise enough the value of meaningful conversations with your classmates. My first role post-MBA was creating case studies and conducting sessions alongside global experts at Oxford’s Social Finance and Impact Investing Programmes for executives. I was recommended for this opportunity by my classmate, Allegra Day, who knew I had the research skills and aspirations to make me a good fit. Later when I found myself looking for opportunities in India, I contacted a classmate Aditi Chatterjee who had always spoken in glowing terms about her employer, Sattva Consulting. Sattva is a home-grown social impact research advisory firm in India that has had a meteoric rise in recent years. Aditi made an introduction and now I am a Research Expert for Sattva, leading research and strategy engagements for clients like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Google.org. None of this would have happened if Allegra, Aditi and the rest of us social impact geeks hadn’t spent the time to make genuine connections and support each other.
You may not land exactly where you expect, but the Oxford platform can help you get someplace even better.
If you are the ideal MBA student, chances are you will come to Oxford with a clear picture of your dream job after graduation, but it’s also likely that the experiences you have and the people you meet at Oxford will shift your goal posts, urging you to reach for bigger or different dreams. If you stay open to these opportunities, while keeping one foot grounded in realities like work visa policies and hiring freezes, you may exceed your own expectations. I came to Oxford thinking I might go on to support Indian social entrepreneurs, but Oxford enabled me to become one myself. As a University-endorsed graduate entrepreneur, I recently took the plunge to launch my own venture: a text analytics platform to ensure women’s voices from emerging markets directly inform the strategies of global funders who seek to serve them. I look forward to joining the vibrant community of entrepreneurial University alumni and hope that you will join us soon too!
Sanjana Govil, Oxford MBA class of 2016-17Back to top of article