Meet the MBA Class of 2022: Sunny Paia’aua, INSEAD

Sunny Paia’aua


Do well, but also do good.”

Hometown: Rockhampton, QLD (Australia) and Gifu (Japan)

Fun Fact About Yourself: I can solve the Rubrik’s Cube in less than 2 minutes but not in less than 1 minute… so I guess I’ll never be cool anywhere.

Undergraduate School and Major: The University of Sydney – Nursing (Emergency)

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Defence Specialist Linguist, Australian Defence Force

INSEAD is one of the most culturally and professionally diverse MBA programs in the world. How do you see these global perspectives enhancing the value of your business education over the next year? At INSEAD, everyone is a minority” – This was one of the many promises that invigorated my aspiration to not just do an MBA, but do it at INSEAD. What I can tell you from my experience so far is that this promise has been far exceeded to a degree that words cannot explain. This translates to working on real world problems or even case studies using 3D approaches to 3D problems – where every member of the group doesn’t just come up with a different solution but the way they approach the problem is also unique. I have no doubt that this will serve us all well in our future careers and in our personal lives.

Aside from your classmates, what was the key part of INSEAD’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? It is the entrepreneurial culture that permeates the INSEAD environment. Unlike others who are interested in this aspect of INSEAD, I don’t see myself founding a start-up venture in the near future, but I’m excited to take entrepreneurial tools, markets and creativity to solve social/environmental problems by working to drive impact from within institutions/organizations. It’s so relevant given the state of the world today.

What course, club or activity excites you the most at INSEAD? I’m excited to join the Women in Business (WiB) Club. Never again in my life will I be surrounded by such strong, smart, independent, and driven women (and males allies) on a daily, intensified basis.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: I founded a non-profit that aimed to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for Indigenous Australians using sport as a medium for change. We shifted the national dialogue through one united effort between grassroots Indigenous communities and sporting athletes and teams.

How did COVID-19 change your perspective on your career and your life in general? If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the COVID-19 pandemic so far, it’s that existential threats don’t just go away. Currently, the 500 largest companies spend US$15 billion/year on CSR (arithmetic mean: US$30 million) on CSR. Between 2011 and 2018, the share of Fortune 500 companies publishing CSR Reports grew from roughly 20 percent to more than 85 percent. During that period, CSR/ESG efforts went from being a “nice-to-have” to a “must-have”. The dominant businesses of the future will be the ones that have a knack for resilience.

Professionally and personally, I am more appreciative of the meaning of true resiliency; that it’s less about who you are or the event, but how you think and adapt. Resilience is about braving challenges with ambition, an impenitent curiosity, propensity for learning, and a hint of versatility.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point and what do you hope to do after graduation? Through my personal upbringing and experiences with global non-profits, the military, and consulting, I became increasingly aware of the power of business in shaping society. Objectively, businesses could (and should) impact society for the better. Unlike governments, businesses often span multiple nations and geographies, and the revenue of some businesses is greater than GDPs of nation states (where they themselves often operate).

After INSEAD, I hope work in a large business in their already credible CSR department, such as at Starbucks, Lego, Nike, Adidas or Disney (all leaders in this space). Bringing with me the knowledge of priority areas and operating principals of agenda setting NGOs, I want to learn how agenda-setting businesses execute their CSR mission – and ultimately merging these two worlds. Overtime, I want to lead the execution of CSR strategies (workforce transformation, employee engagement, partnerships) to enhance the international standings of these companies whose values align with mine.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Oxford and Cambridge (I knew I wanted an EU MBA)

What advice would you give to help potential applicants gain admission into INSEAD’s MBA program? Be proud of what makes you, YOU; quirks and all. Think about events that have happened in your life where you made the greatest leaps in your emotional maturity – why was that the case? Keep your ‘whats’ brief and challenge yourself to convey your ‘whys’.