How My MBA In Australia Helped Me Make A Fresh Start In Social Enterprise

Deena Hasnie was looking for an MBA to give her purpose. AGSM @ UNSW Business School delivered. Now she’s started an Australia-based social enterprise helping disadvantaged women in the Philippines

When Deena Hasnie enrolled in the MBA at the Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM) at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in 2014, she was looking for a fresh start.

“I have a child with a disability, and [...] I was back in Australia [after living in the Philippines]," she explains. "I needed to make my life a little bit more meaningful for both my daughter’s sake and for mine.”

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She’d long been interested in doing an MBA, and she decided on AGSM’s Online MBA Change: an innovatively-formatted part-time program taught through intensive weekend classes combined with four online courses.

Though she had not worked professionally for some years—a matter that may have fazed some business schools—Deena had done extensive volunteering work with ABS-CBN Foundation, helping to raise one million US dollars for communities that had been evicted from city slums. This was an asset in her application to AGSM, and she was accepted into the MBA cohort starting classes in 2014.  

“It was not easy, but the [real] challenge was making [myself] feel that life was worth it—I was juggling looking after my daughter full-time [with] the MBA, which is very intensive,” Deena recalls of the course.

“Still, I loved the experience—because I was not working, I was able to concentrate fully on these two things: my studies and my daughter.”

Deena’s favorite part of the course, she says with a laugh, were the assignments: “We had to research so many things!” she says. “I learned so much, and we got so much deeper into the subjects—it just opened [up] the world to me.”

The subjects taught on the MBAX course are many and varied, ranging from a user’s perspective of accounting, to the fundamentals of people management, to strategic management. The revised program, taking shape in the coming academic year, will even include a course titled the “Executive Blueprint”, which will act as a primer for executive management.

Buoyed by the technical skills she’d learned on these courses at the Australian Graduate School of Management, Deena headed into the jobs market—but found that the business world was not as forgiving of the gap in her professional CV.

Despite her qualifications, she had little luck finding a job that inspired her. But this did not stall Deena for long.

Some years earlier, in 2001, Deena had been strolling through an expat bazaar in the Philippines when she stumbled across a line of nightgowns, each individually produced by local seamstresses. She had been impressed by their quality at the time, and had been buying them for herself and her family ever since.

The company that owned the nightgowns was THEA Nightwear. “THEA” stands for Thread of Hope for Economic Advancement, and was established in 1989 by Marie de la Soudière to provide work and opportunity to women who live in slums in the Philippines.

Armed with the business acumen she had gained in her MBA, plus her previous social enterprise experience, Deena now approached Marie to inquire whether THEA would be interested in gaining a distributor in Australia, and offering herself for the job.

Now, seven months on, the business is thriving. Deena believes that the teaching at AGSM has equipped her with the confidence to meet any challenge head-on.

“All the pressure, all the quality of teaching, all the stuff we went through—it just improves your confidence level,” she says. “[I’m now doing things] that I wouldn’t have thought three years ago that I could actually do.

“It made me a confident person—it empowered me, and I see [now] that no problem is a problem for me. I can solve this!”

Given her experience, Deena believes that more businesspeople who are interested in social enterprise should consider an MBA at the Australian Graduate School of Management—there is much to be gained from an MBA that can benefit vulnerable communities.

“There are so many ways that people can help,” Deena says. “Just a one-dollar donation can make a big difference in someone’s life.

“But [MBA students] don’t have to spend their money—they can spend their skill, their knowledge, their experience in helping these people.”

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