2023 Best & Brightest MBA: Afraz Khan, UC-Berkeley (Haas)

Afraz Khan

University of California-Berkeley, Haas School of Business

“I am a community organizer, faith leader, and performance artist focused on advancing racial justice.”

Hometown: Cerritos, CA

Fun fact about yourself: I run a wedding officiant social enterprise supporting interracial and interfaith couples and I’ve officiated over 100 weddings myself.

Undergraduate School and Degree: New York University, BA in International Relations

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) National – Racial Justice Program [Outreach Coordinator]

Where did you intern during the summer of 2022? EY-Parthenon, San Francisco

Where will you be working after graduation? Bridgespan (Consultant)

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: 

At Haas:

  • Co-liaison, Consortium
  • Co-president, Net Impact
  • Haas Student Ambassador
  • Co-president, Muslim Business Club
  • Student Advisory Board member, Center for Equity, Gender & Leadership (EGAL)

Outside of Haas:

  • Board member, Urban Compassion Project, an Oakland-based nonprofit organization providing direct services and support for unhoused populations
  • Part-time Imam delivering sermons across the Bay Area [Sample]

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? In the summer before I started Haas, a couple classmates and I consulted with the Urban Compassion Project (UCP), an Oakland-based grassroots organization dedicated to empowering and uplifting unhoused residents in the Bay Area. I worked closely with Executive Director Vincent Williams, who was formerly unhoused himself, in crafting a strategy for how we could better disseminate UCP’s mission in the broader Oakland area. We built out website models, gathered different types of shareable media content, and designed marketing message templates. After the summer project with UCP ended, I stayed connected with Vincent to understand how I could engage more with local housing issues. I mobilized 25 classmates to volunteer with UCP on the weekends to build a deeper relationship with unhoused populations and understand how businesses and city agencies were neglecting their needs.

Vincent recognized my commitment and offered a board position with UCP to help continue expanding their outreach and impact. To serve on a non-profit board has been a dream of mine that came true during business school.

What I’m most proud of during my time at Haas and as a UCP Board Member is co-organizing and co-hosting an on-campus discussion on the current housing crisis in the Bay Area. During this event, about 120 classmates and community members were able to hear Vincent’s story and how his struggles living without a home inspired him to found this non-profit. They also learned about the current state of the nearly 30,000 unhoused people in the five Bay Area counties and the fact that 90% of trash found on the streets near encampments is a product of illegal dumping. Lastly, I ensured folks learned how they could get involved, especially because such a social issue could easily be out of sight for individuals attending an elite business institution. UCP’s cleanup model allows folks from all walks of life to interact with and engage with their fellow unhoused neighbors and actually learn their story.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? At ACLU National, I focused my organizing efforts on housing and education. In one case, I led our team’s outreach efforts to legally challenge a punitive North Carolina statute that criminalized over 2,000 students of color for youth-like behavior. I directed our legal team to conduct 23 meetings with community groups to identify potential plaintiffs as well as gain more depth on the effects of such a discriminatory policy. Families spoke of years battling the School-to-Prison-Pipeline. Where others saw trauma, I also saw a budding movement. I traveled to North Carolina with our attorneys and organized follow-up discussions with activists and parents. Each found affirmation sharing a similar struggle, and all wanted to eliminate the broad discretion police officers had in schools as a result of the statute. In connecting differently impacted groups together, we successfully helped facilitate a coalition of partners focused on diminishing the influence of police in schools and building alternative methods of intervention. After several additional months of organizing and advocacy, this coalition successfully lobbied the Greensboro City Council to divert $500,000 from school police toward mental health services.

Why did you choose this business school? As someone who had gained experience in the public sector conducting community affairs in NYC Government and in the nonprofit sector doing racial justice work at the ACLU, I recognized some of the limitations within these sectors and wanted to explore what impact could look like through the business lens. I tested the social enterprise model through my own wedding officiant service, Muslim Wedding Service. By creating a revenue donation stream, the company provided $40,000 to NYC nonprofits and donated $4,000 to Black-led racial justice organizations in 2020. I saw an MBA as the next step in equipping me with the knowledge and skill set to leverage business tools to maximize revenue potential, while simultaneously advancing racial justice.

What was your favorite course as an MBA? In Impact Investing Practicum I had the opportunity to work directly for Gratitude Railroad (GRR), an impact investing firm that was exploring investments in the financial inclusion space. In collaboration with three classmates, I conducted a landscape analysis of the current financial products and services supporting unbanked and underbanked populations. I specifically focused on more inclusive forms of lending, including P2P platforms providing small business owners with loans funded through local community efforts as well as credit-building approaches using rent payments as a data point. At the end of the semester, we presented our findings to the GRR Board of Investors. I had the opportunity to discuss some historical barriers, such as how the criminal justice system is disproportionately harming Black and Brown communities and preventing them from having financial access to credit, loans, educational services, and housing.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? As someone who thoroughly enjoys South Asian dance, one of my favorite traditions at Haas is the Diwali Consumption Function. It’s an annual event hosted by the South Asian Business Association that includes food, music, and student-choreographed dances. I had the privilege of choreographing two Bhangra-inspired dances for ~40 of my classmates that we performed in front of the entire Haas community. This event was not only a way for me to share parts of my culture with my classmates, but also to advance discussions on how our cultural and ethnic identities shape how we view the world and show up in different spaces.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I’d focus on not filtering parts of myself based on the presumption that people will not understand me. As someone who is deeply committed to the Islamic tradition, I initially struggled to understand how much of my spiritual identity and practice I should be sharing with others. I’ve committed the entire Qur’an to memory, deliver sermons and teach classes at different Islamic Centers, strive to incorporate the five daily prayers into my routine meditative and gratitude practice and derive much of my commitment to justice and equity from the principles found in my faith. I initially assumed my classmates would be unable to relate to or understand these parts of myself and kept them more mute. However, I took a risk at the end of my first semester and shared a part of my journey with faith through Story Salon, a Haas program in which students conduct mini TED-style talks on their life. I was surprised to learn how receptive and affirmative my classmates were of my relationship with my religious tradition. This was all a lesson to me to not have been so quick to assume from the beginning that others would not want to learn more about what makes me, me.

What is the biggest myth about your school? One myth I hear frequently is that Haas has a “student driven” culture. While I have found the administration to be extremely supportive on a variety of different fronts, I do feel students ultimately are the ones driving the change and building the programming they want to see at Haas. I felt this first-hand when I started organizing as a Graduate Student Instructor (GSI) with my labor union UAW2865 as part of a 48,000 student worker state-wide strike occurring across the UC system for better working conditions. Although the Haas administration acknowledged the strike, there was no support or systems in place for Haasies to get involved in supporting striking workers. I spearheaded outreach, phone banking and canvassing efforts at Haas and successfully mobilized about 40 classmates to support and/or participate in the strike. As co-president of the Net Impact Club, I invited ACLU Attorney and former NLRB Lawyer Alex Ortiz to Haas to talk to MBA students about the state of labor unions in the U.S. My hope is that social issues like workers’ rights, which are inherently tied to business, become more of a priority for the administration.

What did you love most about your business school’s town? Berkeley is nestled perfectly in the East Bay hills. One of my favorite things to do is to hike at Tilden Regional Park where you get some incredible views of San Francisco as well as the broader peninsula and Bay Area.

What surprised you the most about business school? I was surprised to learn that, for the vast majority of social issues humans face, businesses are often playing an integral role in exacerbating or remedying inequities. I had the opportunity to travel to Palestine during my first-year spring break as part of a political delegation to learn more about the ongoing colonial apartheid policies being implemented. I was surprised to learn that a big tech company was complicit in providing the facial recognition, surveillance, and biometric ID technology that has facilitated the further subjugation of Palestinians. As a business leader, my hope is to ensure businesses are scrutinized more carefully in how they allow their products and services to be used.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? In addition to talking to folks at Haas who were pursuing a social impact career, I made sure to constantly reaffirm my intentions for business school. My goal was and still is to use my MBA to advance racial equity in society. Reinforcing that vision as I entered my two-year program allowed me to remain focused on engaging with the professors, courses, and resources that would equip me best with the tools to achieve this objective. I used Haas as an opportunity to work with organizations like B Lab Global, advance conversations on workers’ rights through my involvement with labor union UAW2865, and lead impact-driven groups like the Consortium and Net Impact.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I have a deep appreciation for Jude Watson, the 2022 Haas MBAA President. Jude took over the MBAA after a difficult year during COVID. In supporting in-person student programming again, they led the painstaking endeavor of developing support systems for student clubs and student leaders to have access to the funding and resources they needed. They also made themselves extremely available for students to voice any grievances, from academic challenges to navigating student life in business school. Jude went above and beyond in ensuring they were a source of support to those around them.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? 

  1. Build my own community-oriented social enterprise designed to provide social services (primarily housing and education) for the communities it serves.
  2. Found my own Islamic Center to provide institutional, social and economic support to the next generation of Muslim Americans to ensure they are empowered through their faith identity.

What made Afraz such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2023?

“Afraz is a community organizer, activist, and leader. He shows up in all spaces with a consideration for multiple perspectives at both the local and global level. He brings his extensive experience in racial justice and community organizing into programming for the broader Haas community. These are unique leadership skills that Afraz has brought to Haas.

Afraz served as a co-liaison for the Consortium and has stepped in to create a sustainable vision for this leadership team that will live on after his tenure. This community of students is deeply committed to DEI and community activism and over the past year Afraz has stepped in to create a sustainable vision for this leadership team that will live on after his tenure. I want to highlight the community building he has done for this group of 90+ Consortium students. Afraz co-led his CGSM leadership board in designing and executing an off-site two-day retreat for 50 members of the Consortium community. This event required persistent communication and influence without authority to secure the necessary funding from the Haas administration. Specifically, Afraz developed a Lived Experiences workshop in which Consortium members were able to discuss the origins of how they define community and belonging and how those elements can translate into building a racially equitable future. This retreat was a meaningful experience for those who participated and the event will now be carried forward annually.

Afraz has also continually created opportunities for Haas folks to engage with their local community. He brings his extensive experience in racial justice and community organizing into programming for the broader Haas community. In spring 2022, he hosted an event to educate students about the Bay Area housing crisis. He shares opportunities to learn and support ongoing labor union organizing efforts, and hosted an event for Ramadan for 120 classmates to share that part of his culture and religion with his peers. He also came to CMG to talk about how his intersectional identities have influenced his career path and experiences in recruiting and the workplace, creating a rich dialogue and learning space for staff.

Afraz is an incredibly humble and effective leader. He continues to inspire me, our students and staff in the way he integrates racial justice, service to his community, and celebration in all that he does.”

Laura Benoit
Associate Director, DEI Lead & MBA Career Coach


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.