Meet MIT Sloan’s MBA Class Of 2021

Zoya Ajani

Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School of Management (with the Harvard Kennedy School MPP Joint Degree)

“Ambitious, passionate and determined to make a positive impact on the world”

Hometown: Toronto, Ontario / Mumbai, India

Fun Fact About Yourself: In 2014, I sat on a plastic seat with a broken seat belt in a 15-seater Soviet Antonov AN-28 aircraft through Tajikistan’s Pamir mountains near the border with Afghanistan, where our plane came within 300 meters of the mountains. Both horrifying and spectacular!

Undergraduate School and Major: Trinity College, University of Toronto – Economics and Psychology

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development – Special Projects Manager Asia

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: In Madagascar, I met a woman who had walked 13 hours to request a loan at the local bank.  While financial Institutions were present and willing to lend in the country, accessing them was a challenge. With 94% of the population in poverty, only 5% of the population had access to formal banking services; however, 45% had mobile phones. Recognizing this opportunity, our teams at Aga Khan Agency for Microfinance Madagascar envisioned and implemented a mobile banking project with Orange (a global telecom company) to allow individuals with mobile phones to open a bank account, save money, and instantly receive loans. I led the data analysis and architecture for this partnership. One of my proudest accomplishments was when I led a challenging negotiation with Orange to find a compromise between respecting customer data privacy rights whilst making the required data available for artificial intelligence to provide credit scoring. Today, the project has been widely successful, with over 100,000 mobile banking clients within 15 months of the launch – which is over 500% more than the number acquired by traditional lending channels after 10 years.

When you think of MIT, what are the first things that come to mind? How has your experience with the Sloan program reinforced or upended these early impressions? Technology, entrepreneurship, collaboration, and mission-driven.

Talking to Sloanies during my admission process confirmed my view regarding the collaborative atmosphere of Sloan, where students are willing to go out of their way to help each other and prospective students. The Entrepreneurship and Innovation track curriculum and courses, including the action learning labs such as Global Lab and Development Lab, have reinforced my belief that Sloan cultivates an entrepreneurial mindset while being at the forefront of cutting-edge technology and committed to creating an impact.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? While I am eager to meet classmates from my year upon starting, I have had the opportunity to virtually meet my peers through a Slack group where classmates introduce themselves and ask each other and senior Sloanies questions about work, housing, life, classes and everything else at Sloan. Being an international student, this platform has been extremely valuable in helping me navigate how to go about starting my life in Boston and at Sloan. Despite having diverse experience and numerous accomplishments, Sloanies in my cohort are immensely humble and have been helpful at sharing their tips and tricks for life at Sloan.  I can’t wait for school to start so I can engage in thoughtful exchanges with them!

Aside from your classmates, what was the key factor that led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA and why was it so important to you? After working in International Development over the last five years and exploring my passion for the space, it was essential for the MBA program I chose to highly value social impact amongst factors such as return-on-investment and to provide me with an environment in which classmates would be committed to creating a positive impact in the world. As my work has shown me how transformational technology can be, a program that would teach me how to use technology to further enable social progress was especially important to me. MIT Sloan is home to The Legatum Center, which aims to accelerate social and economic progress across the developing world through innovation-driven entrepreneurship. Sloan’s various dedicated programs in this area, such as Social Impact Fellowship, Sustainability Initiative, and Development Lab, have reinforced my belief that social impact is ingrained in the school’s culture. Moreover, the opportunity to do a joint degree with Harvard Kennedy School in Public Policy added to the appeal of Sloan.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? I am most looking forward to project-oriented courses in which classmates from Sloan and other MIT programs such as science and engineering form small teams to tackle problems in entrepreneurial organizations. I am also eager to develop solutions through the Global Entrepreneurship Lab, which allows students to take on problems in developing international markets, and the Development Lab, which approaches issues of global poverty with a design mindset using hands-on classes and workshops. Finally, I am excited about Innovation Teams, in which I will learn about the process of innovation as a scalable practice and have the opportunity to apply these learnings to existing MIT technologies.

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? The most challenging part of the Sloan admission process was the length of the cover letter. Since the 350-word limit was significantly less than other schools, I was concerned I would not be able to effectively tell my story and convey my fit for the program. Luckily, the short cover-letter was accompanied by a one-minute video interview, which gave me the chance to express myself more comprehensively. The subsequent interview process was also enjoyable, as the interviewer had read my cover-letter and watched the video – something that was not typical for all schools – and therefore we could dive deeper into my experiences.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? My previous experiences have inculcated a profound passion to address broader societal challenges and ensure that every individual has access to the basic services required to map their lives out of the poverty. Applying high-impact commercial models to solve pressing development problems will be my future career path. An MBA will help me achieve this goal by filling the gaps I have in financial and managerial skills, further developing my strategic thinking and analytical skills, and broadening my knowledge base through thoughtful exchanges with a diverse cohort.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Stanford, Harvard, Wharton, Yale

How did you determine your fit at various schools? I determined my fit at various schools by considering several factors: the school’s value placed on social impact; its focus on staying at the forefront of new technology, diversity of the cohort; and, the extent of practical education and hands-on learning. It was also important for me to be part of a smaller program.

After conducting preliminary research online, reviewing employment reports, speaking with current students at each school, and talking to faculty, MIT Sloan has not only met the above criteria but has so far exceeded my expectations. Talking to current MBA students at different programs allowed me to understand the school’s culture and the supportive nature of Sloanies; the highly intelligent yet down-to-earth personalities I came across confirmed that Sloan was the perfect fit for me.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? Born to a middle-class family in India, the poverty around me was a constant reminder of how privileged I was. The only difference between me and the girl knocking on my car window begging for money was fate; the families we were born into shaped our lives to be drastically different. When I moved to Canada at the age of 14, I realized that if this girl had been born in Canada. Even in a less privileged household, she would have had a better chance to change her life through support such as access to public healthcare, education, and welfare. The contrast of her probable fate in these two countries instilled in me the drive to work towards ensuring that every individual, despite the circumstances they are born in, is given the chance to create a life of their choice.

Where do you see yourself in ten years? At the crossroads of the public and private sector, unraveling convoluted development problems by using innovation and digitalization. I hope to continue traveling far and frequently (although may opt for a sturdier aircraft next time!).

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