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From Civil War to Business Management: First Sudanese MBA Wants His Homeland to Prosper

Husameldin Elnasri is the first Sudanese Lancaster MBA. With his home ravaged by a 60-year civil war, he works in agriculture to make Sudan a better place. Read his remarkable journey to prosperity.

Fri Sep 13 2013

Husameldin Elnasri is from the war-torn country of Sudan. He is the first Sudanese MBA to study on the MBA program at Lancaster University Management School. He left his wife and two young daughters behind in Khartoum, the second largest city in the Republic of Sudan, West of Ethiopia, to further his business career and bring prosperity to his homeland. Husameldin has completed a remarkable journey to study in the United Kingdom from a country that has been ravaged by civil wars for over 60 years.  

He successfully completed his MBA in 2012 and was held in the highest esteem by his peers. He was voted as the most admired MBA for supporting, advising and helping colleagues; voted as the most respected class member for his future leadership potential; and was voted as the class member who will achieve the most senior business position. He also won The Independent’s MBA student of the year award. He has demonstrated extraordinary achievements in the face of adversity.

But his MBA was abruptly put on hold when Sudan, split into two countries – North and South - when the people of the south voted for independence in 2011, returned to fighting a civil war that has so far cost the lives of over 1.5 million people.

Husameldin is speaking to me on a temperamental internet connection on Skype. His two daughters climb up to the seat next to their father, intrigued by the conversation, fidgety and excitable. “There was no way I was going to stay in the UK because I was so worried,” he says of flying back to Sudan, mid-MBA. “The area where I was living had people from North and South Sudan living in the same area and the atmosphere was very volatile. I got really scared about my family.”

Husameldin considerers himself lucky that he was on a break between Semesters, but others would argue his fortune lay in being able to stay out of the conflict. The war has driven nearly 2 million people from their homes. “Although they kept on telling me on the phone that we were okay, I felt like I needed to be there,” he continues. “So I quickly finished my essays, submitted them and then flew straight back home.” His daughter climbs up onto his lap, peering into the camera. I can see that there is nothing more important to Husameldin than his family.

Sudan is one of the poorest countries in the world, and poverty is deeply entrenched in some communities. But Husameldin was raised in what he considers a “middle class, very political" family. He says there was always food on the table, his school was in walking distance and water always flew from the taps. “It was an easy life”, he says, almost shamefully. But before Husameldin studied an MBA at one of the UK’s top-ranked business schools, he was involved in various community projects to help the people of Sudan. He cares about poverty alleviation. “It really changed my perspective,” he says.

“I went to an area of Sudan where there were women and small girls who had to carry water for almost one or two kilometres just to reach home. And it wasn’t even good (clean) water.

“Schools were not really available and even the primary school kids have to walk really far. People are dying from diseases that are completely preventable, and when I went there, the look I’ve seen in people’s eyes... that really changed the way I look at myself.

“It changed the way I..." he pauses, and gathers his thoughts. “At that time, I decided I want to do more of this.”

Far from seeking to prosper on his own, Husameldin’s motivation in business is to help the people of Sudan, those living in poverty, with the threat of war looming over their heads, to have a better quality of life. The MBA at Lancaster, while fruitful, was a platform for him to return to his homeland with a rich bounty of knowledge. “I took the matter of my MBA very, very seriously,” he asserts.

“And I did very extensive research before I applied to a program. I wanted a program that would give me exposure to different sectors and the Lancaster MBA program offers a lot of practical programs with the opportunity for big projects with clients.”

Husameldin secured internships while on his MBA as a consultant for Isothane Limited and EDF Energy. Doing business in the UK opened his eyes to a whole new way of operating. “People in Sudan are a bit more relaxed than in the UK,” he jokes. “But most of the commitment here in Sudan is kind of personal and emotional. People really need to trust you to do businesses with you over here and this is not the same in the UK.”

Sudan is considered a high-risk state and a difficult place to do business in. Sanctions imposed by the US and other Western states make transferring money difficult, and many American and British companies have been restricted from doing business with Sudan, Husameldin says. Does he think it’s been difficult to establish new businesses in the current climate? “Definitely,” he says. “Here in Sudan it’s tough for many reasons. The war has been here for a very long time, and the Government of Sudan hasn’t really been very popular for a while.

“This has been going on for a very long time and has resulted in Sudanese people starting to export less, so instead of doing business with the West, we are doing more business with the East now, countries like China, India, Malaysia and Indonesia. So many people here are trying to find innovative ways to cope with these problems.”

Although he completed his MBA at Lancaster with distinction, because of sanctions imposed by the West Husameldin was barred from taking the GMAT exam, needed for entry onto many MBA programs. “Just to let you know how bad the sanctions here are,” he says, “when I was applying for my MBA I discovered that Sudanese people are not allowed to take it (the GMAT).

“The government really didn’t know what the GMAT was, it was really funny! So, I only had to apply for the schools that could waver the GMAT. I have never taken the GMAT before.

“Even when applying for my MBA it was just a big challenge; transferring the money from here to the UK was just madness.”

Although Husameldin has been faced with an enormous amount of challenges, he landed a job with DAL Group, based in Sudan, in November 2012 - the same month he completed his MBA. The company is the largest and most diversified conglomerate in Sudan and Husameldin is a Senior Project Manager, tasked with expanding their agriculture strategy across the country. He says that he would “definitely not” have got the job had he not studied an MBA at Lancaster, and that it provided him with the soft skills and experience that he needed to make a career for himself.

If there was every any debate as to whether LinkedIn really is a useful employment tool for MBAs, Husameldin clarifies it in one fell sweep. He drew the attention of DAL Group officials through social media. “I didn’t really follow the regular route to be honest,” he says, comically. “What I really liked about them was that they are committed to invest in Sudan, in despite of all the challenges that are happening here and the conflict. They are very responsible.”

He messaged senior managers on LinkedIn. “I made use of my new acquired MBA skills, specifically the strategy module, and I did an analysis for the business,” he continued. “I built a business model and I made a nice graphic map. I looked for some contact for the company on LinkedIn and I got two of their top management guys: so I sent them the map and said that I had a business proposition for them. And then I waited.” His daughter screams and climbs onto the seat on the bed next to him, again. He apologises.

“It took them like ten days, but then they called me in for an interview and I met the HR manager and then the managing director.” He has since been working there for almost a year.

Husameldin thinks that agriculture could provide a lot of solutions to the problems the people of Sudan face. Is his motivation to help others succeed? “Yes,” he adds. “I aspire to be an African agriculture business expert. I think we would be able to provide a lot of solutions because we have to take the fact that most Africans are actually farmers and see that this is the area that we really need to address.”

Husameldin has succeeded in the face of remarkable adversity and his journey has been nothing but inspiring. North and South Sudan may face a raft of social, economic and cultural issues, but Husameldin is on a mission to make it a better place. With an MBA from Lancaster University School of Management, he feels he can make that happen.