2022 Best & Brightest MBA: Ardelia Djati Safira, National University of Singapore

Ardelia Djati Safira (Safira)

National University of Singapore – The NUS MBA

“A versatile leader who empowers people’s growth, leads by examples, and serves communities outside herself.”

Hometown: Jakarta, Indonesia

Fun fact about yourself:

  • I really love art and music. Singing, playing the piano, and realistic-style painting are some activities that I do frequently during my leisure time. I love exploring new music to cover, filling my home with my paintings, and creating customized greeting cards for families and friends.
  • I am a foodie! My husband, son, and I love to take a trip to new restaurants in Singapore almost every weekend to treat our taste buds with new kinds of food.
  • I love running at sunrise and sunset particularly around Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands area.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Prasetiya Mulya, Greater Jakarta Area, Indonesia (graduated in August 2014), Bachelor of Economics, Corporate Finance Major

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school?

Employer: PT PPA Kapital, a Jakarta-based private equity firm

Job Title: Manager – Investment Analyst

Where did you intern during the summer of 2021? (List Company and Location)

Employer: Angels of Impact, social impact investment firm

Job Title: Portfolio Management Intern

Location: Singapore

Where will you be working after graduation? I am still in the process of finding the right company and role, while focusing on my classes in the last semester. The modules that I am currently taking are quite heavy, focusing on tech and digital business.

I will still continue to run my small jewellery business based in Jakarta. Currently I am expanding my sales to Singapore and adding other countries in North America to my market expansion list.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

Community & Student Organization:

  • President of 38th NUS MBA Student Council: I led 32 council members with diverse backgrounds. The NUS MBA Student Council consists of 12 Clubs, including 7 professional clubs and 5 general interest clubs. The Student Council has successfully arranged over 80 events in just 7 months, collaborating with other MBA programs in Singapore, as well as seasoned industry professionals and alumni.
  • NUS MBA Representative for Touch MBA podcast & MBA Tube
  • Co-Creator of “NUS MBA Mommies” group for January 2021 intake batch: an informal community of mothers on the NUS MBA program.

Merit Based Awards:

  • The NUS MBA Achiever Scholarship

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of my role as the President of the 38th NUS MBA Student Council. To be honest, at first, I was not sure if I made the right decision by applying for this leadership role, as being a mother in the first months of an MBA program was not as easy as I imagined. Before starting the programme, I was part of the Student Transitional Taskforce Committee (STTC), and enjoyed working with the other incoming students in arranging events and initiatives for the rest of the cohort. As a result, a friend of mine suggested that I try running for the position. I went through the election process, including creating the manifesto (vision and mission for the Student Council), pitching, and campaigning. I was deeply humbled and honoured to be elected as the first female and first Indonesian student council president. The student council performed well despite the changing circumstances and regulations due to pandemic, we exceeded our initial target number of events and participants, and managed to set new standards. I am grateful for the support from the campus, industry experts, and alumni, as well as the dedication shown by my fellow council leaders.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? The achievement that I am most proud of was when I interned at Angels of Impact, a social impact investment firm that supports indigenous women-led community-based enterprises across Asia Pacific with its presence in Singapore, US, and New Zealand. The company provides mentorship through an incubation program, invests in enterprises with entrepreneur-friendly terms, and helps to expand the enterprises’ market reach outside of their home countries. Angels of Impact supports the women entrepreneurs according to their needs.

During my internship, I was responsible for managing four community-based enterprises from Laos and Indonesia, as part of the ASEAN Women Impacting Social Entrepreneurship Program (WISE). I guided them in brainstorming and creating business strategies alongside corporate volunteers who are also part of the Angels of Impact community; I also taught basic financial management skills, and connected them with Singapore-based local brands. I helped one of the community-based enterprises form a partnership which brought their brand collaboration project to Singapore, which was a new market for them to explore. Another community-based enterprise also started a new product line based on our discussion on their long-term business strategy.

Despite the achievements and milestones that I conquered, I will always cherish the relationships that I built with these strong women entrepreneurs. I learned the importance of perseverance from them. Despite the challenges brought about by the pandemic, they continued to pursue their passion in developing their local communities through sustainable businesses, helping marginalized women by providing them with job opportunities, which in turn helps to alleviate poverty locally. I take pride not because I was the most capable one in the room, but because I believe I had done my best to add value to those I had the opportunity to work with.

Why did you choose this business school? I realized that self-discovery is a keystone of The NUS MBA. For me, an MBA program is a safe time and space to experiment, evaluate shortcomings, and establish foundational strategies to work on those imperfections. The NUS MBA has amazing experiential learning modules, which include Launch Your Transformation (LYT), the MBA Survival Kit (MBS), and the MBA Consulting Project (MCP). I expected these modules to help me to discover my true strengths and overcome my weaknesses. In the end, I got more!

One of the experiential learning modules that was unforgettable for me is Launch Your Transformation, a leadership bootcamp that was packed into one full week. This module takes students out of their comfort zones with intense role plays, using workplace-related case studies and public speaking exercises, such as giving speeches and pitching under pressure. Led by external instructors who are professionals with extensive leadership experience, students got the opportunity to unlearn and relearn. The module strongly encourages you to have a series of deep conversations with your team members through peer coaching, and I ended up I learning more about myself. One key outcome I got from LYT and MCP is the relationship that I have with my group mates, who are now my close friends. I am proud to say that I have started my transformation and am still transforming with The NUS MBA.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Wow, it is a tough question. I have been blessed with incredible professors. As someone who did not expect to study any marketing module, my favorite MBA professor is Prof. Prem Shamdasani. We called him by Prof. Prem, or Dr. Love as he is affectionately called by his students. Prof Prem was my supervisor for the MBA Consulting Project. During the project, Prof Prem was very hands on. He was always there to support my team in our meetings with the client. With his guidance, my team was able to efficiently and effectively come up with the correct problem statement, and establish the right framework and approach for the case. Our recommendations were accepted by the client and we also received praise by the management team.

I also took Prof Prem’s intensive classes in marketing, Customer Centricity in the Digital Age and Brand Alignment for Sustainable Growth, with each module lasting three days. I took both classes, hence I had a full intensive week with Prof Prem, learning the importance of both Customer Centricity and Brand Alignment, which strongly complemented each other. In six days, students were immersed in discussions on case studies, individual assignments, and group projects. We also had the opportunity to hear from guest speakers from MNCs about the impact of Customer Centricity and Brand Alignment in the corporate world. The speaker were NUS Executive MBA alumni and Prof Prem’s former students, and they were happy to give back by sharing their experience with the MBA class.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? One favorite MBA event that I am truly proud of is the Finance Corporate Connect 2021 (FCC 2021), a virtual networking event conducted by 38th NUS MBA Executive Committee, NUS MBA Finance Club, and NUS MBA Sustainability, Ethics, and Impact (SEI) Club. The event was conducted in June 2021, during a time when we could not gather physically for a social event due to the pandemic restrictions in place. The event committee successfully secured 10 finance professionals from investment banking, private equity, venture capital, impact investing, and digital finance subsectors. The event capacity was capped at 70 seats, so MBA students had the opportunity to intimately interact with guests in breakout rooms. The virtual networking event was a culmination of long planning and networking efforts, with the collaboration and support from the schools, students and participants. Some guests came back to support the NUS MBA Club Ecosystem and become mentors on the NUS MBA Student Clubs. FCC 2021 was one of the student-led initiatives that exemplified the agility of the program and its students in delivering a holistic learning experience despite the challenges posed by the pandemic. Our dream is for FCC to become an annual finance-focused networking event organised by the NUS MBA.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I would have joined a short exchange program at another business school or gone for an international study trip, to participate in another class outside of the NUS MBA, visit companies in another country, and network with other MBA students from other business schools. In this strange pandemic period, there are things I hoped would have happened differently, but I feel confident about how I’ve invested my time over the last year to gain the best experience I could.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Before I came here, I heard that studying at NUS would be challenging, as the students are very competitive. But having experienced the MBA, I found this to be a myth. Students come from many countries and bring with them a variety of experiences, contributing to a community that is collaborative and supportive.

What surprised you the most about business school? I was most surprised at how essential my cohort is to the whole MBA experience. I entered NUS MBA without knowing what to expect of my classmates. Class discussions and group projects became much more interesting with insights from individuals from a variety of backgrounds that are totally different from mine. Even outside of the academic setting, I never thought I could build meaningful friendships in just one year. House parties, art jamming sessions, and cultural celebrations are just glimpse of what I do with my cohort. My MBA experience was highly elevated because of them.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I took the essay writing process very seriously, as I wanted to demonstrate my authenticity to the admission committee as much as possible. There was an essay around values, in which I had to share a situation when my principle or value system was put to the test. I wrote about the circumstances I went through at my workplace, which pushed me to be courageous and firm and uphold the value of integrity. What I emphasized in my essay was that having a positive value that you hold close to your heart was important, but what was more important and challenging was to inspire members of the organization to practice the same value. The unique experience I shared was valuable because it motivated me to be flexible with my interpersonal skills, as my work involved numerous stakeholders with different characteristics and interests.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I have to say that I am truly blessed to have met amazing individuals on the NUS MBA program. I highly admire my classmates as each of them has his or her own strengths, achievements, and uniqueness. They inspire me with their knowledge, kindness, and perseverance. I would not be the person I am today without all the interactions and relationships I’ve developed during the MBA, and choosing specifically one over the other to highlight would be a disservice.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My husband has been the one who influenced me to pursue my MBA. Having gone through an MBA program himself, he remembered very well how transformative the experience was for him and supported me in pursuing my passions. Being raised in families with parents who consistently taught us the importance of hard work and education, we’ve always supported each other’s personal and professional development.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? Working internationally with people coming from other nationalities and professional backgrounds has been the first item in my bucket list. I’ve only worked in Jakarta, Indonesia, prior to the MBA and gaining international exposure has always been my dream. I’m glad that I had the opportunity to tick this item through my internship experience and I look forward to gaining more international experience when I graduate. Additionally, I’ve aspired to develop a sustainable community-based enterprise, and establish a venture that employs young indigenous talents from Indonesia. I dream of building my jewelry brand into a holistic lifestyle business that supports the same mission.

How has the pandemic changed your view of a career? We have been through the strangest time of our lives in the last two years. Something that seemed strange in the past — working from home — has become the new normal. The pandemic has changed my perception of work. These days, you can accomplish goals and complete projects without having to spend too much time physically in the office. I have been more productive with my work, and balanced some me-time, by going to the office on alternate days. However, I must admit that humans crave interaction, and some discussions are better managed if they are done in person. Thus, I believe going to the office for important meetings and brainstorm sessions is still necessary.

Aside from understanding that work-life balance is getting increasingly important, I believe that there are more opportunities ahead. Thanks to advanced technologies, we can have virtual meetings with numerous stakeholders from different parts of the world. I experienced this during my internship, in which I had a call with counterparts sitting in the UK, Singapore, and Indonesia at the same time. It is becoming normal and inevitable!

What made Safira such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2022?

“I was impressed with Safira’s leadership qualities. She was she the first female President of the NUS MBA student council and led tremendous achievements, in terms of the number of activities they organized and the kind of engagement they generated from their fellow students. Safira also cares and gives back and I am amazed at the different ways in which she has given back to the communities she was a part of. And, she has done all this while managing her family commitments, is even more remarkable. I believe that with her tremendous energy, ability to handle multiple demands on her time, and caring nature, Safira will make a tremendous positive contribution to her workplace and the society at large.”

Nitin Pangakar
Academic Director, The NUS MBA
Associate Professor, Strategy & Policy, NUS Business School

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