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Fridays from the Frontline: The Support of the Stern Community During Covid-19

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It takes a community to get through a pandemic, and that’s just what Rizwana Iqbal, Stern MBA ’21, found at the NYU Stern School of Business. Read her story from startups to Stern and through recruiting with the help of her b-school community.

The Support of the Stern Community During Covid-19

Rizwana Iqbal, NYU Stern Full-time MBA, Class of 2021

From Startups to Stern

I began my journey with economics as an undergraduate at Delhi University and as a post-graduate at the London School of Economics. After graduation, I started off in investment banking. Later, I moved back to India to help launch Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation in the region before taking on the responsibility to launch Uber in East India. While it was intense, Uber was one of the most rewarding experiences of my professional life because it gave me the opportunity to have tangible impact. My cities became Uber’s fastest growing region worldwide. This experience made me professionally fearless as I realized that I could do anything I put my mind to.

This was when I was working at Uber. I was at Nagpur with my team, getting ready to launch my cities across East and Central India. This was the day I did my first on-boarding!

Thereafter, I plunged headlong into India’s startup arena, where I saw how hard it was to raise funding for technologies that could have impact. I realized I wanted to be on the other side and work at an impact fund, so I decided to pursue an MBA.

I only wanted to be in New York, and I only applied to NYU Stern. Stern’s Pick Six personal expression essay, which asks candidates to select six images they feel represent themselves, made me realize that Stern was right for me. The fact that Stern looked at me holistically and went beyond my resume made me see that I would get to interact with interesting personalities during my MBA experience. When I heard from Stern and received a scholarship, I jumped at the opportunity.

Stern Support Increases During the Pandemic

During my first year of the MBA, I was recruiting for summer internships and interviewed for a role with Acumen, a global nonprofit that is changing the way the world tackles poverty by investing in sustainable businesses, leaders, and ideas. After the final round, they went with another candidate, but Stern’s career office counseled me to continue to network, and I kept in touch with my HR contact there. When the pandemic hit in Spring 2020, Stern’s career office launched SternWorks, an initiative to connect full-time MBAs seeking summer internships with paid projects at impact funds, small businesses, b-corps and nonprofits. Acumen had an opening in the Global Strategy team based out of NYC. I reconnected with my HR contact and thanks to SternWorks secured the role within the Office of the Chief Investment Officer.

Given my background in technology and finance, I felt like impact investing was the best articulation of my skills, a platform that would enable me to create impact, while harnessing my strengths. Acumen focuses heavily on post-investment support for portfolio companies, which the company calls “accompaniment.” As part of my summer internship, I focused on how to refine Acumen’s value proposition for accompaniment across Africa, India, Latin America, and the US. I created a framework for measuring the impact of Acumen’s post-investment support to its portfolio companies. I presented the roadmap for implementing the solution, thereby enabling Acumen to identify strengths and implications of its global technical assistance strategies. My internship was everything I hoped it would be. I got the opportunity to work with smart, talented women, who led with empathy and compassion.

The Helping Hands of the Stern Community

In the Fall of my first year, I had interviewed with McKinsey for an internship in digital consulting, but did not get a final offer. I kept in touch with my mentor at the company, who had been exceptionally kind and had guided me throughout the process. After my internship with Acumen was over, I applied for a full-time role at McKinsey in digital consulting.

Enjoying lunch with a friend between classes before the pandemic. I absolutely love Greenwich Village! I have had my best meals in NYC in the area around Stern.

To keep my sanity while dealing with the stress of recruiting during the pandemic, I promised myself that every day I would just keep one foot in front of the other — i.e., network, apply and give my best when called for interviews. I chose to believe that the job where I would be happy would find me in due time.

When I got a call from McKinsey’s recruitment team, I was ecstatic. I reached out to my fellow Sternies who had interned at McKinsey and my peers rallied behind me. Classmates would take hours out of their schedules to coach me just to see a fellow Sternie succeed. They prepared me while constantly reminding me that I had a strong personality and should bring forth my humorous side. They gave me confidence, so when I interviewed, I was not afraid of showing my true self.

When I received the final offer from the firm, I realized that my success was not the mere culmination of my efforts, but also the selfless support of my classmates, the sacrifice of my parents and so much more. I felt very humbled. There is no alternative to hard work, but hard work alone is not enough for achieving your goals. Having the right people around you who support you and bring out your best self is critical.

Recruiting through the pandemic made me feel eternally grateful for being a part of the Stern community. The experience changed my perspective on life. I realized what giving back selflessly truly means and for that I am eternally indebted to my Stern community.

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