She Fled The Taliban — A Year Later, She Entered Europe’s Top Master In Management Program by: Natalie F. Kahn on September 12, 2023 | 5,995 Views September 12, 2023 Copy Link Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Email Share on LinkedIn Share on WhatsApp Share on Reddit Behishta Nazir: “I don’t know when, but I just hope that everything’s gonna be OK one day, and we all will go back” to Kabul Behishta Nazir was living in a refugee camp with her husband when she received what would turn out to be a life-changing email. The head of the admissions team at HEC Paris asked Nazir if she was interested in applying for HEC Imagine Fellows, the prestigious French business school’s new graduate scholarship for students from war-torn countries. Nazir, 24, fled her home in Kabul, Afghanistan when the country fell to the Taliban in August 2021. When she got the email from HEC, it had only been a few months since she’d become a refugee, and she didn’t know where she would end up. She was anxious about making such a major life decision at such an uncertain time, but Nazir eventually decided to apply to the university and the scholarship program. And soon her life changed in ways she never could have imagined. OVERCOMING UNCERTAINTY The application and interviewing process took more than five months, with Nazir relying on the poor Wi-Fi connection in the camp for all of the application steps, calls, and interviews. Nazir said the school provided “so much support” during this time, making it possible for her to complete the application process despite the circumstances. Months later — and only two days after she’d arrived in Europe — she learned that she’d been admitted to HEC Paris’ top-ranked master in management program with the Imagine Fellows scholarship. “It was super, super exciting,” Nazir tells Poets&Quants. But she wasn’t sure she should accept the offer. “I was not living in France and I was just thinking (about) rebuilding everything from scratch, building my life again, starting everything from zero, so I was not sure if I would go for a major fellowship.” Two days later, she overcame her uncertainty and accepted the offer. ‘I FEEL THAT I BELONG TO THIS PLACE & I LOVE THIS NEW LIFE’ Behishta Nazir: “It’s not bad to raise kids, but I think it’s not the only job of a human (and) it’s not the only thing that a woman can do” Nazir arrived on campus for her first year at HEC Paris in 2022. At first, she struggled to find a sense of belonging in her new environment. “It was just so tough for me because I think I was going through a lot of trauma — I’d left (Afghanistan), I was not with my family anymore.” She was still grieving the loss of her former life in Afghanistan, and with many family members still in Afghanistan and her husband living in Germany, Nazir felt alone. She didn’t socialize much during her first semester. “But little by little,” she says, “I kind of healed and now I have a sense of belonging to this campus.” By the end of her first year in HEC Paris’ MiM program, she was friends with her HEC classmates and involved in campus groups, including the student club HEC Imagine. She and three of her HEC classmates founded the club to welcome and support other students coming from war-torn nations and to stimulate conversations on and off campus about utilizing business as a path toward peace. In February, the group organized a “Business & Peace” conference in Paris with guest speakers and panelists and around 100 attendees. Going into the second and final year of the MiM program, Nazir is excited to return to campus and begin taking classes in her specialization: Sustainability and Social Innovation. “Now I kind of feel that I belong to this place and I love this new life,” she says. Nazir says her time at HEC Paris has resulted in a professional and personal transformation: “It changed the way I want to live now. It made me more resilient. It made me think in different ways.” RAISING KIDS IS ‘NOT THE ONLY THING A WOMAN CAN DO’ In Kabul, Nazir spent two years working at an impact investing platform at BrightPoint Consulting Services. Matiullah Rahmaty, to whom Nazir is now married, founded the company and investing platform. The platform helped Afghan startups access funding and support, working exclusively with businesses with positive social or environmental impacts. “We were not working with ordinary businesses,” she says. Some of these startups were led by women, she says, adding, “Those women were employing other women who didn’t have access to job opportunities or who are housewives and they didn’t have financial literacy or financial independence.” Growing up, Nazir saw firsthand how gender roles limited opportunities for women and girls in Afghanistan. She credits much of the education and career opportunities she had to her parent’s choice to move from their village to the capital city of Kabul and said things were very different for her cousins still living in the village. Most of them, girls and boys alike, didn’t go to school. One of her cousins was the first girl in their village to attend school but now, like all women living under Taliban rule in Afghanistan, she is not allowed to work or go to university. “It’s not bad to raise kids, but I think it’s not the only job of a human (and) it’s not the only thing that a woman can do,” Nazir says of the strict gender roles in Afghan villages. Since taking control of Afghanistan, the Taliban has stripped women and girls of most of their freedoms, including banning girls from attending school past age 12. Some women in Afghanistan are now finding ways to get educated online through institutions in countries such as the United States. ‘WE JUST FIRMLY BELIEVE THAT WE WILL GO BACK’ Before the Taliban takeover, Nazir helped implement a new initiative at BrightPoint Consulting called “Jobs4Peace,” which trains young adults in Afghanistan to do data annotation for AI and machine learning systems and provides them with remote jobs in this field. The company is still offering these trainings, as well as courses to teach Dari and Pashto, the national languages of Afghanistan, and the Quran to Afghan refugee kids and families living in Europe and the United States. To teach these courses, BrightPoint hired Afghan teachers and other professionals who lost their jobs when the Taliban took over the country. Nazir and her husband hope to eventually launch their impact investing platform in Europe for underrepresented migrant entrepreneurs. However, they have not given up on their company in Afghanistan. Many members of their team are still at the Kabul office and Nazir’s husband is focused on leading the company remotely from Germany. “We just firmly believe that we will go back (to Afghanistan), so we kept the company up and running,” she says. While Nazir mourns the situation in the country she calls home, she is optimistic that things will change and those who fled will be able to return. “I don’t know when, but I just hope that everything’s gonna be OK one day, and we all will go back,” she says, “I miss Kabul — the streets, the people, the hope that we had, the things that we were doing. Yeah, I miss them all.” DON’T MISS THROUGH HER FAMILY BUSINESS, THIS MBA IS HELPING TO EMPOWER FEMALE REFUGEES and HEC PARIS TAKES OVER FIRST PLACE IN THE FINANCIAL TIMES MASTER’S IN MANAGEMENT RANKING Comments or questions about this article? Email us.