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Maneesha Wijesinghe

Degree:

MBA

Industry:

Entrepreneurship

Year:

2020-21

By Maneesha Wijesinghe

Get to know Maneesha Wijesinghe, Class of 2020-21

Tell us about yourself: A girl from Sri Lanka currently working on a start-up to tackle the world’s consumer waste crisis. My background is in tech. I have worked at a few start-ups and went through two IPOs. Right now, entirely focusing on the MBA and my start-up “Kola Project.”

Sector/Industry you worked in pre-MBA: Tech (SaaS)
Sector/Industry you are hoping to work in post-MBA: Social Entrepreneurship / Venture Philanthropy
Country of residence before coming to Oxford: Sri Lanka, United States
College: Mansfield
Social Media: LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/maneeshawij/


Q1. In one word, how would your best friend describe you, and how would your manager describe you?  
Best friend : Spontaneous or crazy!
Manager: Ambitious

Q2. Tell us about where you have come from and what has led you to Oxford, and more specifically, the Oxford MBA.
I was born and raised in Sri Lanka. After high school, I moved to the USA for my undergraduate studies. After graduating with degrees in Electrical Engineering and Physics, I decided to work in tech at a Solution Architect/ Sales Engineer role. After working in the industry for about five years, I realized that my true passional lay elsewhere.

The world’s waste crisis has affected me from a young age. I used to drive to school past a mountain of waste that was right in the middle of Colombo, the commercial capital of Sri Lanka. Years and years of lack of proper waste management and growing waste generation rates accumulated into a massive garbage dump. A few years ago, this mountain collapsed, killing several people living in the surrounding area. I remember asking myself as I drove past it every day, “What went wrong here?”

The waste crisis is no simple matter because it continues to grow, even as we speak. That is why I decided to start my own venture, “Kola Project,” introducing a zero-waste retail supply chain to consumers. I choose Oxford MBA to further the work I am doing to turn it into a full-time endeavor after graduation.

Oxford’s focus on social entrepreneurship, impact studies, and the circular economy was crucial in choosing oxford. 


Q3. What have you done to prepare yourself for the MBA?
I dedicated a significant amount of time to research and self-reflection before deciding that an MBA is the best path for moving forward. Since I was planning to make a 180-degree shift from tech to social business, I needed to make an informed decision on what is best for me and my future.

Connecting with MBA graduates from various fields helped me better align my goals with what an MBA can offer. Also, reaching out to the school and getting more information on the curriculum and extracurriculars helped me choose the best program for me.

I recommend prospective students not make decisions rashly but spend time connecting and self-reflecting until you can justify that an MBA is the best option for your successful future.


Q4. What do you hope to gain from completing your MBA?
My technical and sales background has allowed me to bootstrap a lot of the work that I have done for the Kola Project so far. However, there are specific skills I need to develop to run a company successfully. With the MBA, I can avoid a lot of trial and error and speed up that process.

The focus on social entrepreneurship, impact studies, Global Opportunities, and Threats: Oxford (GOTO), The Entrepreneurship Project, and specific electives such as Nature of the Corporation, Political Economy for Business Leaders, and Regenerative and Circular Economy all of which address the objectives of the Kola Project. Therefore, I can use that education and experience to define my business model and growth structure further.

I also need knowledge in accounting, finance, legal, and operations due to my non-business background, which I hope to fulfill via the MBA. Another critical aspect of the MBA is access to rigorous business case studies and lab work. These would let me hear classmates’ perspectives with different backgrounds, experiences, and skills, making them more impactful. They are vital for me to understand what contributes to a successful business and what to do in the face of ambiguity.

Lastly, I hope to gain an invaluable network of unique individuals building connections that can potentially last a lifetime.


Q5. What is the best advice you received before commencing your MBA?
“Research, research, research!” “Do not make impulsive decisions on something that can shape your entire future. Do your research and make the most informed decisions you possibly can.”

Q6. Do you have any advice about the Oxford MBA application process for candidates thinking of applying?
As mentioned earlier, I would recommend doing a lot of self-reflection to identify who you are and what you want from your future. MBA is not just classroom work and networking. It is also a place where you’ll learn things about you that you’ve never known before and grow in a way you have never grown before. The more you understand yourself and your purpose in this world, the more you can make from this experience.

Q7. What part of the programme are you most looking forward to?   
I was just given the coordinator role of the Oxford Circular Economy lab. I am super excited about this part of my journey! I plan to work with inspirational alumni, faculty, and current students to implement new projects within the university and the surrounding community, raising awareness on the importance of circularity.

Q8. What do you think will be the most challenging part of the programme?
Not letting FOMO get to you. Starting a rigorous one-year program at a world-class university in the COVID era has been difficult (to put it mildly!). I think organizational skills and time management will be must-haves for this coming year to make the most out of the program while staying safe and healthy.

Q9. How do you plan to take the learnings from the MBA to influence positive change?
Speaking with members of my cohort and alumni made me realize that so many people are genuinely looking to make a positive difference in the world. That, to me, is one of the biggest motivators.

I want to take the classroom learning and other experiences to launch the Kola Project successfully. With Kola Project, my ultimate goal is to introduce a waste-free consumer experience to people everywhere. I plan to start locally (possibly in London), expand to the NYC area next, and scale as needed. I believe that a waste-free consumer world is a possibility within our lifetimes; we just have to work a little harder and little differently for it.


Q10. Are there any sport teams, societies, or clubs you’re hoping to become a member of?
I am looking forward to joining some of the sessions at the Oxford Union (circumstances permitting). I also want to get involved in start-up/ venture activities organized by the Foundry and Skoll Centre. I am specifically interested in any ventures focusing on the growth and development of Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
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