The Incredible Stories Behind Latest UN Women MBA Scholarships

A Syrian refugee and globe-trotting not-for-profit executive have become the latest recipients of the $60,000 UN Women Australia MBA scholarship, which supports inspiring women to undertake an MBA at the University of Sydney.

For both Chantal Mousad and Elena Pak, the opportunity to do an MBA is just the latest chapter in their life stories that have been underpinned by the pursuit of community service and personal excellence.

Chantal Mousad

From Paris to Damascus, Erbil and now Sydney, Chantal Mousad aims to use the experience and skills learned in an MBA to blaze a trail for women in leadership everywhere she goes.

Her unique journey to Australia has given her a passion for diversity, equity and inclusion – an area for which she will advocate as the latest recipient of the UN Women Australia MBA Scholarship at the University of Sydney Business School.

Ms Mousad’s determination to overcome adversity have been on display since age 10, when her family moved from France to Syria. Learning a new language and culture did not prevent her excelling at school, but rather than study medicine or law as her family would have preferred, she elected to pursue a degree in economics.

Her greatest challenges were yet to come. After conflict erupted, Ms Mousad’s twins were born prematurely and died after 15 days in Syria’s war-torn hospitals.

The tragedy left her determined to leave Syria and, shortly after the birth of her daughter, she relocated to Iraq and continued her successful career in banking. She reached the position of Chief Risk Officer at Region Trade Bank, where she was the only woman in the 13-strong executive team.

It was while in Iraq that she divorced from her husband and found herself rejected by her community as a result.

“I was determined to give my daughter a better future without limitation on her imagination, and to have freedom for me as a single mum, so I applied to come to Australia,” Ms Mousad said.

“I came with nothing but a few bags. But that was my plan: come to Australia with my daughter and build a great life.

Despite a successful career in international banking, Ms Mousad struggled to have her qualifications and experience recognised in Australia.

Non-profit organisation CareerSeekers helped her land a role at the Commonwealth Bank, and she now occupies a senior position in risk management at Westpac.

Ms Mousad also gives back through her volunteer roles as a board member with CareerSeekers and an ambassador for Happy Brain Education.

She said the opportunity to undertake her MBA at Sydney will help her long-term goal to be a changemaker for diversity, equity and inclusion.

“I didn’t get this scholarship because I was the smartest or most educated, but because of what I’ve achieved and want to achieve – my story and my dream. It’s not enough just to talk about gender equality. You need to advocate for women, for refugees, for Aboriginal people, and anyone who does not have equal opportunity.

“Commerce and economics are both a branch of politics. If you make a change here you can make a change in people’s attitudes and behaviours, and a change for the future.”

Elena Pak

Elena’s journey from her home in Kazakhstan to Sydney has seen her turn her passion for purpose-focused organisations into a diverse career that has spanned three continents.

After obtaining an economics degree in Kazakhstan, Elena moved to the United States, where she completed a master’s degree in communication from Western Kentucky University.

Her professional career in the US saw her undertake leadership positions in the not-for-profit sector at organisations including The Atlantic Council, Girl Scouts USA and the Fred Hollows Foundation.

In 2018, she moved to Australia to head up the Australian office of Development Pathways, a British-Kenyan consultancy company specialising in designing and developing social protection systems.

The move to Australia also prompted her to revisit the skills and expertise she needed to continue her personal and professional development.

“I had been in C-level positions for many years but really felt like I needed to develop my own leadership skills a little more as part of the ongoing process of personal and professional development,” she said.

“I initially applied and was accepted into the part-time MBA program at the University of Sydney, but a new job put that on pause, and it was only recently that the university suggested I take a look at the Executive MBA.

“I thought it was a good way to develop some more leadership skills but also to gain a better understanding of the cultural differences to the way business operates in Australia compared to the United States.”

Elena was attracted to the University of Sydney EMBA because of its delivery format and the opportunity to study internationally.

The University of Sydney Global Executive MBA consists of a mix of self-directed online primers, a major strategic project and 5 x 2-week face-to-face residential blocks held about every four months over an 18-month period, from February to July. These are currently undertaken in Australia, Europe, the United States and locations in Asia.

“I thought the format, the small and experienced cohort, and the nomadic nature of it was exciting, and it appealed to me,” she said. “We did our first module in January and I’m looking forward to the next 18 months.”

To register for the UN Women Australia MBA Scholarships visit HERE.

Ben Ready
Ben Ready founded MBA News in 2014 and is the Managing Editor. He is a former business and finance journalist with Australian Associated Press (AAP) and Dow Jones Newswires in London. Ben completed his MBA in 2012 and was awarded the QUT GMAA Entrepreneurship Prize. He is also the founder and Managing Director of RGC Media & Mktng (