2023 MBA To Watch: Dragana Marinkovic, MIT (Sloan)

Dragana Marinkovic

MIT, Sloan School of Management

“Explorer, love designing tech-based solutions to social problems, beach lover, armchair philosopher, friendly introvert.”

Hometown: Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina (but also Bijeljina, Bosnia and Herzegovina)

Fun fact about yourself: I lived, studied, and worked in eight countries spanning 4 continents including Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Macalester College, BA Political Science and International Studies

Central European University, Master of Public Administration (Human Security and Sustainable Development concentration)

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

Company: Komaza- Kenya’s Largest Commercial Tree Planter and a VC backed social business

Role: Director of Technology Development and Product

Where did you intern during the summer of 2022? Amazon, Seattle

Where will you be working after graduation? Senior Product Manager- Technical at Amazon

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School

Leadership Roles

  • Co-President of First-Generation College Graduate/Low Income (FLI) Club
  • VP, Careers Africa Business Club
  • Africa Innovate Conference, Education Panel Lead and Pitch Competition Selection Committee
  • Co-Organizer, First Gen Summit (at MIT for the first time)

Awards:

  • Dean’s Fellowship for Professional and Academic Excellence

Other Achievements:

  • Teaching Assistant for MIT Sloan’s flagship entrepreneurship course, 15.390 New Enterprises
  • Helped an Indonesian e-fisheries start-up to develop an ESG strategy.
  • Helped Softcom, a Nigerian tech company to develop a roadmap for their growing retail management platform.
  • Developed a market entry strategy for Honeywell’s smart city technology product suite.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of my work as the Co-President of Sloan’s First-Generation College Graduate/Low Income Club. First generation college graduates and people from low-income backgrounds are traditionally underrepresented in top business schools and have a more difficult time navigating the many challenges (and opportunities) of business school life from finances, recruiting, and sense of community/belonging.

As the Co-President, I assembled a fantastic leadership team, and together we were able to organize a range of events to further build and support this community. Some of those include recruiting sessions to help navigate consulting and big tech recruiting, panels for prospective students, and community-building retreats. One of the most rewarding things I heard from students was that the club made a positive difference in their MBA experience and helped them feel like they belong at Sloan.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Before the MBA, I worked as the Director of Technology Development at Komaza, a VC backed social business and the largest commercial tree planter in Kenya. One of the achievements I’m proud of is leading Komaza’s transformation from a low-tech, paper-based operation to a full technology-enabled and data-driven company. To do this I needed to build out product and data teams, develop a platform that seamlessly connects 25,000 tree farmers, their 5+ million trees and 450 staff members into a smooth-running system, build a sound data infrastructure, and most importantly garner support for this transformative vision across nearly all departments within the company.

The experience taught me a lot about myself, about leadership, the art of influence, and the process of organizational transformation and gave me a chance to help an impactful business grow.

Why did you choose this business school? MIT’s motto is mens et manus or mind and hand. This is deeply reflected in Sloan’s approach to business school education, with many opportunities to put in practice what we learn in the classroom. Through Sloan’s Lab classes, students get to partner with companies to solve their strategic, technical, and operational challenges. Along the way, they explore professional interests, either functional or thematic. For example, I had an opportunity to work with companies in Nigeria, Indonesia and the US, exploring topics such as smart cities, tech-enabled fisheries and helping small businesses in Nigeria grow.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite faculty member is Daena Giardella. In her Improvisational Leadership class, Daena creates an environment where students feel excited to experiment with various improv acting techniques that help build confidence to tackle unexpected situations which require good leadership skills. Her weekly three-hour class sessions simply fly by.

What was your favorite course as an MBA? My favorite MBA course was Improvisational Leadership: In the Moment Leadership Skills with Daena Giardella. The course uses the practice of improv acting and key principles of improv to help students develop their leadership skills. Trying to do an improv scene in front of 30+ business school classmates is both terrifying and fun. The class pushed me out of my comfort zone and helped me develop a kinder and more useful relationship with failure. It helped me grow confidence that I can be effective in unpredictable situations by being in the moment.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? I really enjoy Sloan’s Cultural Functions (also known as C-Functions). These are events, often with music, performances, food, and parties organized by various student groups and clubs. They reflect the amazing diverse group of classmates we have at Sloan.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? MIT Sloan provides students with many opportunities, throughout the two years. I have many interests, which lead me to pursue a lot of very different things while often feeling like I’m missing out on something. This was particularly the case during my first year. Looking back, I wish I had created a better vetting mechanism to have a structured way of deciding what to pursue and what to intentionally leave behind.

What is the biggest myth about your school? The most frequent myth I heard is that Sloan is a quant focused program. I think Sloan allows you to create your own academic experience. With only one semester of core courses, students can choose what they want to focus on, and this includes fascinating courses in the space of AI, Data Science, and Analytics – but also so many others. Many of the quant courses are very accessible to students who don’t come from quantitative backgrounds.

What did you love most about your business school’s town? I like that Boston and Cambridge are very walkable, easy to navigate, and have a very lively student community.

What surprised you the most about business school? I was most surprised by the number of trips and treks that students take during their MBA experience. MBAs are globetrotters at least during the two years of the program, and that’s not something I was aware of coming into the experience.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? The application process has so many components, so it’s hard to tell what gave me the edge. If I have to guess, I think that it was having a clear understanding of why Sloan, in particular, was the place where I will achieve my personal and professional goals. After speaking to many students during the application process, I had a clear sense of why Sloan, its community, culture, resources, and curriculum are a good fit for me.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? The classmate I admire is Genevieve Rogers. Genevieve brings incredible energy to everything she does, whether it’s spearheading a big project, cooking a large meal for a group of friends, or pitching a start-up idea in front of a full auditorium. She is fun, easygoing and has a way of bringing people together. In addition, she is an inspiring leader working to solve tough challenges in the biosecurity space.

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

1. Build an innovative software product or company that brings affordable quality education to people who lack access to it.

2. Help establish an entrepreneurship ecosystem in a place/country where one doesn’t exist yet.

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

“I first met Dragana in summer of 2021 when I served as her 360 coach. I was impressed by her maturity and the breadth of her experience – she was born in pre-war Bosnia and had studied and worked in six countries. Most recently, before joining MIT Sloan, Dragana had been in Kenya deploying technology solutions to scale the operations of Komaza. Her recommender noted that her leadership – calm and quick thinking under pressure- earned Dragana both the technical results and human support that her mission critical projects needed to succeed.

Twenty months later Dragana, not surprisingly, has emerged as a leader at MIT Sloan. As Co-President of the First Generation Graduate/Low income (FLI) Club, she has been active in helping classmates navigate the business school environment. Last fall, she co-organized the MIT First Gen Summit to bring first generation graduate students together from schools across the east coast.  Dragana has also been a leader within the Africa Business Club, and this month she will lead both the Pitch Competition and Education panels at the Africa Innovate Conference. She also serves as a Teaching Assistant for New Enterprises. Post-Sloan Dragana will take a role at Amazon as a Senior Product Manager – Technical.”

Maura Herson
Assistant Dean, MIT Sloan MBA/MSMS Programs

DON’T MISS: THE ENTIRE LIST OF MBAS TO WATCH IN 2023

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