Meet Mounir Nasri, From Saudi Arabia To Queen’s University

Mounir Nasri from Saudi Arabia is going to Queen’s University

Name: Mounir Nasri

Birthplace: Saudi Arabia

Place of residence: Toronto, Canada

Fun fact about yourself: I take the cold side of my pillow very seriously.

Undergraduate and Business School programme: BA Global Development Studies with Distinction from Queen’s University, and a Master of Management, Innovation and Entrepreneurship from Smith School of Business at Queen’s University.  

Can you tell us a little bit about your life and career before studying a business degree?

I am a Syrian-Canadian-Armenian who was born and raised in Saudi Arabia where I went to an Italian and an American school. My parents decided to move back to Syria towards the end of my elementary school, where I mainly lived until I moved to Lebanon during the war in Syria and before arriving in Canada. At a very young age, I got the opportunity to have friends from different parts of the world and be exposed to different cultures and ways of seeing life. That left a significant impact on me and kept me curious to know more about how people live and explore the world outside of what is familiar and known to me. I’ve always been the tech-savvy kid in school and at home, and I wanted to work in a field related to technology so I studied Computer Engineering right after high school. But then the war in Syria happened and everything changed. I ended up being more involved in community work because that was needed on the ground and the only thing that I found meaningful back then. I also worked in many fields – I’ve worked at a warehouse, at a bookshop, sold used furniture and appliances for some time, I worked with international NGOs, I worked in tech and education, and I helped start a community building initiative that impacted over 100 people in one year. As for the last five years in Canada, I worked in the newcomer inclusion and settlement space in Toronto where I led a number of entrepreneurship, employment, and skills and community building projects for new Canadians.

Talk us through your decision to seek refuge and move, and the journey this involved?

The decision was fairly quick and driven by necessity rather than choice. One of my best friends got kidnapped and the shelling basically reached my bedroom’s balcony.  I was finishing my first year of university and at one point it was extremely dangerous to simply commute to school. That’s when I knew that I needed to leave and find a safer place to live in. I initially moved to Lebanon and was fortunate to move forward with my studies there. However, it was a tough journey with many rapid changes that required a lot of flexibility and thinking outside of the box to navigate a series of challenges and complexities.

What did you find most difficult when arriving in a completely new country?

Canada, and specifically Toronto, is a unique place to land in especially if you’ve always had friends from different parts of the world. The diversity of people and thought is incredible and that helped me navigate opportunities and call this place home. Home to me was always a place with people from all over the world.  I am grateful that I had friends and community members who helped me and my family when we first arrived, and unfortunately I know that this is not the reality for many newcomers who arrive today. In the initial stage of settling in, it was difficult to ensure that my parents are well supported and able to find meaningful opportunities while also working hard on developing myself and my career. In a normal situation, it’s the other way around, but I knew that it was a short phase until they were fully settled. This is the reality of many newcomer and refugee families where children tend to hold more responsibilities than they’re supposed to while building their own future. It’s not easy and there needs to be more support for them and for parents who struggle to evaluate their credentials and transfer their skills and experience to the labour market.

Why did you decide to apply for Smith School of Business, Queen’s University, and the Master of Management, Innovation and Entrepreneurship? 

I wanted to further develop my skills, expand my network, and pursue a graduate degree in an area that I deeply care about and that allows me to find and build meaningful opportunities in different spaces. MMIE at Smith School of Business was the right place for that. Reflecting back on my journey as a refugee, some level of innovation was a big part of it all. I had to be innovative on a daily basis to navigate the world – from challenges that come with not having a proper legal status to challenges in finding employment and learning opportunities in the midst of uncertainty. I’ve realized that innovation becomes a necessity when you’re forced to navigate complex barriers and challenges. I applied to MMIE because I knew that it was the perfect place to further develop my management and business skills and learn how to drive innovation wherever I go.

How was your experience and what did you find most challenging?

One of the many unique things about MMIE is that it gave me the option to continue my full-time role while pursuing my studies. I was able to learn from work and school at the same time and apply different ways of thinking and learning in both worlds. I’ve been basically working throughout my entire education journey and that is never easy. It requires big sacrifices and perseverance but it is absolutely worth it.

Can you talk us through your life and career post-graduation?

A global pandemic was definitely not on the list of things that I was expecting for life post-graduation and in the final phase of my program. I am grateful that I had the support I needed and was able to navigate another complex situation. I became a Canadian Citizen and I got published, I transitioned to and accepted a new full-time role in the beginning of a pandemic right before graduation, I did a meaningful master’s final project with a global consulting firm, I biked a lot and hiked and camped with some of my favourite people, I had good coffee every single day, I made new friends virtually, I read new books, I spoke in a number of events and conferences, and I supported my community and those around me as much as I can. Although those weren’t my main goals for my life and career post-graduation, I am grateful for it all and excited for what life will bring once the pandemic is over.

What skills have you utilised from the programme into your career?

Where do I even start. MMIE and Smith gave me the skills and knowledge to better understand the business and entrepreneurship world in a Global and North American context. It gave me the mindset and tools I need to better bring people together to drive innovation across organizations. A lot of what I learned was around innovation and strategic thinking which was extremely helpful at work during the pandemic since we had to constantly come up with new ways of doing things while building our new 5-year strategy with our partners.

What advice would you give to other refugees looking to leave their countries and considering studying a business degree?

A lot of refugees are looking to leave their countries and find better opportunities abroad but people still face many inequities and barriers. From visa restrictions to travel and financial limitations. Unfortunately, in the world we are in it is a privilege to be able to resettle or travel somewhere else, and we need to talk about how just a small portion of refugees globally are able to find better opportunities abroad.

To folks who are looking to leave their country and are considering studying abroad, I would say:

Your perspective, experience, and what you have to offer to the world is extremely valuable. Don’t ever underestimate that. One of the best pieces of advice that I’ve received is that If you don’t ask, the answer is always going to be no. If you need something, ask for it. Ask for support and communicate your needs properly, and you’d be surprised how many ordinary people and citizens are willing to give their time to help. And most importantly, be open to change and never miss an opportunity to learn or to connect with someone who can offer a new way of seeing the world.

Where do you see yourself in the next five years?

The pandemic brought a lot of uncertainty to the world but that can also be an opportunity to reimagine things and what is possible. If anything, the pandemic showed how fragile our systems can be and it magnified the social and economic consequences of all kinds of inequities that exist in society today. There is no reason why we can’t change that and work towards a more sustainable future where everyone is fully participating in society and is able to fully enjoy what the world has to offer.

If you asked me five years ago, being where I am today was completely out of sight. This is why for my next five years I don’t want to limit my thinking with one possibility because there are so many possibilities out there. What I know is that I want my next five years to be full of growth and learning while making meaningful impact, change, and transformation in whichever space I am in. I want to bring more people and big ideas together and work on building meaningful innovative and inclusive initiatives. I want my work to make a bigger difference locally and globally, and that can happen in many ways and in different contexts. I want my next few years to be full of new ideas and adventures and conversations over good meals with people from all over the world. I have a vision of what I want and where I see myself based on a set of priorities and values, and that is enough as it’s what matters most at the end of the day.


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