Innovative grad finds supportive home at Western

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Shirin Ahmed, MBA’20, has a vision for using business to make things better.

Throughout her career, Ahmed has always found herself on the leading edge of innovation. From initiating PremieBreathe, a low-cost medical device that aimed to significantly reduce newborn mortality in Ethiopia, to creating a therapist-client matching platform with fellow MBA student, Amrita Singh, she has always intended to use the power of business and technology for good.

“I’ve always had an inkling for entrepreneurship and wanting to build something new, do something innovative and surround myself with people who also think that way,” said Ahmed, who was selected as a Forté Fellow recipient for her MBA class. Forté Fellows are women who have demonstrated exemplary leadership in their organizations and communities.

“Social entrepreneurship is a long-term game for me. If you can design good products and services that benefit people socially – especially people in communities that don’t have access to education or who are living in underprivileged circumstances – that’s something that really speaks to me.”

On June 19, Ahmed will join more than 300,000 Western alumni living around the world as a newly minted graduate and member of the Western Class of 2020.

Born and raised in Pakistan, Ahmed moved to the United States while in high school and received a BA in political science and international studies at Yale University, where she also spent time studying in Morocco and working in Uganda. She went on to New York to work at a humanitarian organization. From there was born a passion for improving health issues that affect communities without access to proper care.

After working in the not-for-profit space for nearly six years, she felt the need to build up her business and entrepreneurial skills. An MBA would be the ideal way to gain the business skill set needed to take her vision to the next level, and Ivey Business School’s practical, real-world experience and close-knit London community appealed to her.

“I never wanted to get into traditional MBA roles. I spent my last six years in the social impact space, whether it was health, humanitarian work or a medical device start up. Now, I want to build on that because business has the power to do social good.”

The first few months at Ivey took a toll on Ahmed. The passing of her father just before the start of the program, the MBA workload and adjusting to a new country were immense challenges for her.

“I really struggled, but I am incredibly grateful for the community that I’ve had,” she said.

The support of the Programs Office, her fellow students and her husband were all important to her survival, which, she said, speaks highly of the supportive and inclusive MBA community at Ivey.

“I’m really glad to have them. They were important for my survival and I was glad to have the education to distract me from everything going on and to help me move on.”

The program also connected Ahmed with people who had lived and worked around the world and across many industries. It was an enriching experience and enabled her to build strong relationships with her classmates. She also benefited from faculty, particularly Finance lecturer Wayne Adlam, who helped her understand challenging financial concepts, which she had never studied before.

“After the second half of the course, people in my class asked me if I was a financial expert. They said, ‘You have your hand up all the time.’”

Now, along with developing the client-therapist platform, Ahmed is doing short-term consulting work with the International Rescue Committee in New York, an organization developing COVID-related health solutions for refugees.

The pandemic has also given her time to reflect on the importance of relationships and family. She also envisions real innovation for the health-care field for the good of all society.

“The pandemic forces you to get out of your comfort zone and do things you wouldn’t otherwise do. That’s a mindset I would like to continue beyond when we go back to whatever normal life will be.”