Meet the MBA Class of 2024: Nabilla Ariffin, U.C. Berkeley (Haas)

Nabilla Ariffin

University of California Berkeley, Haas School of Business

“A mover of resources, connector of people, nature lover, and an adrenaline junkie!”

Hometown: Penang, Malaysia

Fun Fact About Yourself: I was a professional squash player, competing for my country, Malaysia, since I was 10 years old.

Undergraduate School and Major: University of Pennsylvania; Major: Urban Studies (with a concentration on Sustainability)

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: SquashSmarts, Community Impact Director

Berkeley Haas is founded on four Defining Leadership Principles: Question the Status Quo, Confidence Without Attitude, Students Always, and Beyond Yourself. Which principle resonates most with you and why? Questioning the Status Quo. Reflecting on my personal and professional journeys, I felt that I had to continuously advocate for myself as a woman and a person of color (POC) in the sports world. The journey was never easy, but I am grateful for what the sport of squash has provided me. That is why I was committed to giving back through my work at SquashSmarts, a sports-based youth development organization. It was at SquashSmarts where I practiced my leadership and pushed the boundary to create more opportunities for underserved youth to play sports, pave better pathways for their future, and advocate for more women and POC to be on the leadership board.

What has been your first impression of the Haas MBA students and alumni you’ve met so far. Tell us your best Haas story so far. Haas students and alumni are truly passionate about others and the world. Every person that I connected with has a deep passion and pride for the school and their classmates and the drive to positively impact the world around them. I love that about Haas!

One story I will share is when I visited during Days at Haas (DAH). A student came up to me and walked me through why Haas was the right place for me and pointed me to resources I could utilize to reach my personal and professional goals. The genuine intention to help others is something that I experienced throughout the Haas community, and now, with my own classmates.    

Aside from classmates and the Defining Leadership Principles, what was the key part of Berkeley Haas’ MBA curriculum programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you?  As someone who is exploring the corporate sector, one of my goals is to make connections and have informational interviews to test my hypothesis and where I want to go next. Haas’ location provides unparalleled access to alumni, thought leaders, and companies.

Additionally, it was important for me to be at an institution that integrates DEI into its curriculums and everyday activities. Haas’ commitment to develop equity fluent leaders was also pivotal in my decision-making process.

What course, club or activity excites you the most at Berkeley Haas? I look forward to immersing myself in the many experiential learning opportunities, such as Strategic & Sustainable Business solutions or Business Innovation Solutions (BIS Consulting). Coming from a nonprofit background and aiming to pivot into the corporate sector, I want to gain as much exposure to the corporate world as possible. These learning opportunities will expose me to the different industries and functions and prepare to make that switch post-MBA.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: ​​I had the privilege to fundraise and build the first and largest National Squash Center in North America. The opening of the center was the first step to democratizing squash access for the underserved youth and communities here in the US.

Growing up in Malaysia, squash is a public sport accessible to many. When I came to the US, I was shocked to find how exclusive this sport is. So when the US Squash Governing Body approached my nonprofit to help them dream up and deliver a national center with access as a focal point, I jumped at the opportunity! I also developed partnerships with the Philadelphia School District to design community access programs. These programs introduced squash as part of the physical education curriculum to under-resourced public schools and provided students with the opportunity to compete in school and national leagues. It was truly humbling to be able to bring a piece of home to my work and to change the landscape of squash in the US.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point and what do you hope to do after graduation? My nonprofit and public service background have taught me what it means to create equity and impact from the bottom up. In recent years, I have worked with many companies to implement their ESG and DEI commitments. I have found that most of these companies have good intentions, but lack the understanding and execution methods. I want to translate my lived experiences and bring the lens of sustainability, community development, and social impact into my corporate setting. My MBA goal is to gain the business knowledge and the industries and functions exposure to complement my current background. Post-MBA, I see myself going into management consulting, ideally focusing on sustainability and social impact issues.

What is one thing you have recently read, watched, or listened to that you would highly recommend to prospective MBAs? Why? The book Atomic Habits by James Clear. There is a quote from the book that became my mantra during my MBA application process: “You do not rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems!” I had this quote stamped on my wall as it reminded me to not fret and panic over the end result. What matters is the small steps (systems) that I am taking every day to accomplish these goals. I think this will continue to be my mantra throughout my Haas journey.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? UT Austin, UW Foster, UCLA Anderson, Boston University Questrom

What advice would you give to help potential applicants gain admission into Berkeley Haas’ MBA program?  I am a proud reapplicant of Haas, so never let a “no” be the end of your MBA journey! My reapplication process gave me the opportunity to really reflect on who I truly am, my accomplishments (big and small), my future dreams, and which school and community will best support me to become the best version of myself.

I encourage every applicant to do this exercise prior to their application as it helped me realize how I can leverage my accomplishments and my past experiences into my MBA journey and how I can connect these accomplishments and experiences to the future that I envision for myself.


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