During my ten-hour flight home, I decided to jot down these thoughts and reflections after an intensive module week at Oxford. It was an intellectual and emotional rollercoaster ride, which left me feeling a bit ‘there and back again’.
We are back
The week started with a buzzing lecture hall – a scene that has been absent since the pandemic began. Everyone was eager to learn amazing things about Private Equity (Ludo Phalippou and Erin Sarret) and Strategy and Innovation (Marc Ventresca and team). It was wonderful to see old friends and new ones.
During the last session of that week, sitting in the same lecture hall, a rather unfamiliar topic was raised – ‘Potential Implications of the Covid-19 situation’. At that time, the possibility of lockdowns and it developing into a pandemic felt so surreal. Honestly, most of us didn’t even know what a pandemic really was. Fast forward 24 months, during dinner at the Pyramid Room, I closed my eyes for a minute and let myself free-fall into an ocean of background conversations and laughter. I thought to myself, ‘we are back!’ It seems like that big ‘Covid storm’ that was all over us has finally subsided into drizzle.
The week was also particularly important for our startup venture, Little Place Labs, as our team (five of us in Executive MBA January 21) prepared for the final pitch competition at the Oxford Saïd Entrepreneurship Forum (OSEF 2022).
We dedicated every time slot in between classes to prepare and refine our pitch: the words, expression, tone and movement. Team effort and spirit at its best, but that wasn’t all. We also had tremendous support from our whole cohort. Every word of support, advice, and fist pump inspired us.
Blessedly we won the competition. As grateful as our team is, success and joy are not what come to mind first when looking at this picture. What comes to mind is an integral part of us who is missing from it, our dear and key member, Liuba Sergeeva, who couldn’t be there with us at the event due to the Ukraine situation.
Although the situation has been heavily discussed and built up over the past few weeks and even months, everything still came as a shock. The news clips in front of my eyes were happening somewhere not far from me. I automatically put myself in the situation and tried to imagine how I would feel, what would my reactions be…..but I couldn’t.
Growing up in a relatively stable, safe, and adequate environment, I don’t and can’t pretend that I fully understand the feelings of those who are at the heart of this, beyond the basic intuitional understanding of human suffering. I thought about everyone who is impacted and is suffering. This led me to some feeling of helplessness. What can I do to help in addition to repeating, ‘how are you?’, ‘I support you’, and ‘let me know if you need anything?'
Our cohort WhatsApp chat quickly came to life, batchmates who are experienced in crisis management, foreign relationships, governmental work etc started to weigh in on various tangible ideas – write to the authorities, pledge to organisations, donation channels etc. Their resourceful minds enabled and empowered others and me to take more actions to help.
The learning and calling
While the ‘Covid storm’ fades, another storm looms over us. Annoying but this is life, filled with ups and downs. Some are controllable, but mostly not, at least at an individual level. With challenges and difficulties come opportunities.
As Liuba was rushing home during mid-week, she said, ‘we have to make this world a better place, we are Oxford Executive MBAs and we have to do it, make good’. We have been reminded on day 1 of our journey that we are here to support each other, learn from each other, grow together and be impactful – be the best for the world.
The diversity within our cohort and the broader Oxford community are not just some fancy statistics. It is a challenge for us all – how do we use diversity and the underlying collective intelligence to turn it into a powerful tool? In some simple steps – start with an open mindset that is ready to be unreservedly curious, kind, empathetic, forgetting and forgiving. Next, fully embrace and capture the differences, process them, let them sink in, reprocess, conclude, assimilate, apply, and repeat continuously. My greatest learning this week is that I witnessed this in action across every cohort member I connected with and, therefore, I know that we are powerful, more so than any weapons.
The storms are far from gone, yet I can see light beaming through.