QS Scholarship Winner: Gaining Direction through Social Enterprise

Interview with QS Leadership Scholarship winner, Sarah Wong

Earlier this year, a report entitled 'Tackling Heropreneurship' was released by Daniela Papi-Thornton, the deputy director of Oxford Saïd Business School's Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship. In it, Papi-Thornton argues that, while being a 'social entrepreneur' has never been more popular, among many who hold this ambition there remains a lack of understanding about the reality of the problem they would like to address. As well-intentioned as they may be, this is because they have not lived, or 'apprenticed' with the problem and this constrains their ability to make a positive impact.  

QS Leadership Scholarship winner, Sarah WongThis is a point Sarah Wong, an entering student in the INSEAD MBA program, has learned through experience. After leaving a job in consulting, she decided to embark on something more fulfilling, and hence started a social enterprise project in 2013 aimed at improving living conditions for the residents of a village in Indonesia's Riau Islands province - a five-hour journey by both sea and land from her home in Singapore. 

"One lesson that stood out for me," recalls Sarah of her experience with Project Light Up, "was that before we could even start promoting the solution to what we thought was an obvious problem, the first challenge was to find agreement with the beneficiaries about what the exact problem worth solving was! Understanding the nature of the challenge is absolutely vital for a social enterprise to make the maximum impact. It is really a multi-step process."

Understanding when the time is right for an MBA program

As a winner of a QS Leadership Scholarship this year, Sarah will receive an award of US$10,000 towards the cost of her MBA program at INSEAD. With six years of prior work experience under her belt, Sarah feels she has reached the point in her career when an MBA will be truly worthwhile and can help her achieve her goal of a geographical and functional shift in healthcare innovation, the arena in which she now works.

"I have spent enough time in the workforce to know what I want to do next and how an MBA will enable me in my next step. In addition, at this stage of my career, I have also gained a diverse enough experience to add value to the cohort, whether through my networks or work experience. Personally, I think that these are very important considerations in deciding when it is a good time for you to pursue an MBA, and especially one as short and intense as INSEAD's." 

Social enterprise stemmed from "thinking about what I really wanted to do" 

In getting to the point of knowing exactly where she wants her career to take her, Sarah's experience with a social enterprise has been seemingly crucial. Indeed, Project Light Up only arose because of her search for a new career direction. "After my consulting stint, I started thinking about what I really wanted to do and I recalled a promise I had made to myself to do something for the village I had first visited a year before."  


Sarah says that the ensuing decision to start her own social enterprise left her with a mixture of emotions. While it was both liberating and exciting to fulfil the promise she had made to herself and go it alone, it was also terrifying in equal measure. “Without a salary, minimal connections and virtually no team, how on earth am I going to bring a mere idea into fruition?” she had asked herself.

Nevertheless, the hands-on experience of translating this idea to reality lies behind the sense of purpose Sarah now has in her professional life. "Project Light Up has shown me that I feel most purposeful and am most productive at work when I know that what I do directly impacts society positively," she explains, adding that it also helped her develop two core beliefs - in innovating on business models and developing creative solutions to solve problems. "I seek to combine these beliefs in my career in healthcare innovation." 

International diversity awaits on INSEAD MBA

As she prepares for the start of her MBA program, Sarah has already been impressed by the level of interaction between fellow members of her cohort, through online connections, in-country meet-ups and pre-school trips. "It's really organic and INSEADers really support each other," she says. Another thing that stands out for her is the level of diversity she will be exposed to during the MBA program. "I really appreciate this unique point of INSEAD in ensuring that there is no single, dominant nationality so that students have as wide an exposure as possible to other cultures, worldviews and opinions etc. It's also my first time in Europe and so I think this is definitely going to be an exciting year."

As for Project Light Up, it certainly seems that acquiring an understanding of the culture and context of life in the Riau Islands village made all the difference. In her scholarship-winning essay, Sarah recalled a 'pivotal moment' when her frame of mind shifted from 'let me help you' to 'let us work together'. "It was important to show that we were genuinely interested in working together," she says now and, ultimately, this was reflected in the success of her and her team's efforts in impacting the lives of 300 people through the provision of solar lamps, a community water filter, powerboat and kindergarten – things that have been of real use to those the social enterprise worked with.  


Advice for other MBA scholarship applicants: "A single piece of advice I would give is this: Narrate a true story of yours that not only paints you as the deserving candidate of a scholarship but also answers the question directly and in a compelling way. I have also written a short piece on GMAT Club entitled, 'Advice I would give my pre-MBA application self', I hope you find it helpful!"

tim dhoul's profile image
Written by Tim Dhoul

Tim is a writer with a background in consumer journalism and charity communications. He trained as a journalist in the UK and holds degrees in history (BA) and Latin American studies (MA).

0 Comments
Log in from the top right-hand corner or click here to register to post comments