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2017 Best MBAs: Saba Shafi, Wharton School

Saba Shafi

The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

Age: 30

Hometown: London, UK

Fun fact about yourself: I am the voice of a parking lot in Minneapolis…“Caution! There’s a car approaching!”

Undergraduate School and Degree: MSci Mathematics, Imperial College London

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? Seabury Group, a boutique aviation and aerospace advisory firm

Where did you intern during the summer of 2016? Highway1, a hardware accelerator in San Francisco

Where will you be working after graduation? Not sure yet!

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

    • Co-president Return on Equality (ROE): Founded by the Class of 2016, its mission is to make Wharton a pioneering institution that deliberately equips students to be leaders and advocates of inclusive organizational practices, enabling individuals to be recognized and valued as their whole selves.
    • Consultant, Commercialization Acceleration Program (CAP): An advisory center helping innovators commercialize their technology. I worked with both a super-resolution imaging and a low-cost robotics company to market and finance their technologies.
    • Dean’s MBA Advisory Council: A student group that consults to Wharton’s Dean and administrators on important strategic issues. I worked with the Wharton Entrepreneurship program to help grow Wharton’s entrepreneurship/innovation brand and offerings.
    • 1st Place, MIT Sales Competition: Winner of the international individual pitch competition testing students’ ability to build rapport, and persuasively present a business proposition.
    • House Captain, Rebuilding Together: Rebuilding Together transforms the lives of low-income homeowners by improving the safety and health of their homes and revitalizing their communities. As a House Captain, I lead a group of 10 volunteers alongside an experienced contractor to rebuild houses in West Philadelphia during the Rebuilding Together Block Builds.
    • Admissions Fellow: Admissions Fellows work with the MBA Admissions Office to interview and evaluate applicants and answer questions from prospective candidates.
    • Fellowship, Semester in San Francisco Program (SSF): Selected and awarded fellowship to participate in the SSF Program focused on entrepreneurship and technology.
    • VP SSF, Storytellers: Storytellers provides a platform for students to tell personal stories. As VP of SSF, I helped to organize story slam events for students in the SSF program.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of the work I have done as part of Return on Equality (ROE). Working first with the founding team and then helping to lead the Board this year has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life, let alone of business school.

In under two years, I have seen ROE go from brainstorming mission statements over late-night pizza to an established brand in the Wharton community, with students across the U.S. and as far as Tel Aviv reaching out to start similar programs in their schools. Now part of the Diversity and Inclusion Task Force at Wharton, we are partnering with leadership in the administration and the Wharton Graduate Association to equip students with the skills to become advocates and allies of diversity and inclusion in their professional and personal lives.

In my role as co-president, I am particularly proud of coordinating this year’s ROE Week. I organized a week-long program with a team of over 30 people to educate and engage the Wharton community on issues including unconscious bias, allyship and socioeconomic bias. Over four days, we held 10 events with almost 30% of the Wharton student body in attendance. I’m proud to know that these students will leave Wharton ready to engage in discussions around diversity and inclusion in their workplace.

I have always believed that one of Wharton’s strengths is that students are encouraged and supported to pursue opportunities in any sphere. It’s been amazing being part of that community for the past two years and as we move towards elections for next year’s Board, I’m excited to see where next year’s leadership will plan to take ROE.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? When I was 21. I launched a charity called Global Action for Development (“GLAD”). I wanted to create an infrastructure where people could crowdsource solutions to local problems and volunteer their time effectively and impactfully. I also wanted to avoid being dependent on securing annual funding, focusing more on community engagement. After a year, we had over 60 volunteers, 4 active projects and were beginning to deliver real results, but at its core the structure we were trying to create was too complex and avoiding fundraising was constraining our growth. I ended up winding down the charity two years later, but I remain proud of our audacity and what we were able to achieve in a short time.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favourite professor has been Professor Cade Massey. Professor Massey is a Practice Professor in the Wharton School’s Operations, Information and Decisions Department. Amongst his teaching responsibilities he covers negotiations and influence courses for the full-time MBA program.

I took Influence with Professor Massey where his class facilitation, teachings and required readings pushed the class to reflect on past experiences and understand the impact of other people’s decision making. Throughout the course he ensured that there was a safe space for people to discuss concepts and share experiences. In the months since I completed the course, I have found myself applying learnings from class and know that I will continue to do so long after I graduate.

What was your favorite MBA Course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it?

  • Enabling Technologies: The course provides a comprehensive overview of various emerging technologies and discusses the potential business impact of each in the near future. It was the perfect primer to an internship in Silicon Valley.
  • Africa Global Immersion Program (GIP): It is designed to provide a high-level survey of the economic, cultural and geo-political drivers across Africa. Through the GIP, I was able to learn about career opportunities in South Africa and am now considering job opportunities there.
  • Influence (GIP): Influence equips students with the tools to assess their own decision-making and affect that of others. The course provided me a framework to understand power and structures in organizations.

Why did you choose this business school?Facebook. Once accepted, prospective students were invited to each school’s facebook page to start getting to know their future classmates. Most were fairly quiet except for Wharton’s. People were introducing themselves, arranging meetups in Hong Kong and even setting up coffee chats to share expertise on e-commerce. No one was forcing them to reach out to each other. The engagement I saw was a testament to the strength of the community. It was a no-brainer – that was the kind of school I wanted to belong to.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? Meeting people from all over the world with different experiences, perspectives and career goals.

What was the most surprising thing about business school for you? How busy I am!

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I feel honored to have worked with Elizabeth Tang and Ada Hopkins through my work with Return on Equality. Never sacrificing their integrity, they have always stood up for what they believed in regardless of what other people thought. Pursuing decisions and activities that are true to themselves, they have defined for me what it means to be an authentic leader. That inner strength and sincerity has been a guiding force for me through the last two years and I know they will continue to be a source of inspiration for me long after I’ve graduated.

What is your best piece advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? I would advise a prospective student to take the time to truly reflect on and understand their goals. Don’t worry about what you think the admissions officers want to see and instead be your authentic self. Some Wharton students aced the GMAT and some did not. Some have led teams of hundreds of people while others haven’t had a chance to lead a single person. The people I see at Wharton come from different backgrounds and have different ambitions. Celebrating each person’s unique strengths has been one of best parts of my Wharton experience.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I have long been passionate about the intersection of technology and social impact, particularly the humanitarian needs of refugees. I believe it is critical to restore and maintain the rights and dignity of the growing global population of refugees, not just to protect the individual but also to help unlock the potential for broader economic growth. I would like to work towards a solution that can cheaply and effectively improve the lives of refugees, and the economies of the governments that provide them a home.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? My mother. I wouldn’t be where I am today without her drive and the sacrifices that she made. She has always encouraged me to strive for the best and to chase every opportunity to expand my horizons. I know that she will continue to do so and I wish I could express how truly grateful I am for that.

Favorite book: One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez), Catch 22 (Joseph Heller), Look (Solmaz Sharif)

Favorite movie or television show: In the Mood for Love, De Battre mon Coeur s’est Arrêté, Back to the Future, The West Wing, The Wire, DS9

Favorite musical performer: Bon Iver, Tiris

Favorite vacation spot: South Africa

Hobbies? Powering through the Netflix back catalog, finding ways to become an astronaut, filling up my passport before it expires

DON’T MISS: THE COMPLETE HONOR ROLL: BEST & BRIGHTEST MBAS OF 2017