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A special interest beyond the classroom for the MBA student

17 September 2019

The article at a glance

For those with a range of interests there is a wide range of groups, known as ‘special interest groups’, that if embedded …

For those with a range of interests there is a wide range of groups, known as ‘special interest groups’, that if embedded from the outset into your learning experience can ensure the Cambridge MBA year is that much richer and deeper.

Energy SIG members.

Special interest groups (SIGs) are groups of MBA students coming together to promote and develop a shared interest for networking, career and academic purposes. Activities range from peer practice to organising conferences, talks and company visits.

Students who engage with or indeed lead and organise a special interest group during their time in Cambridge tell us about the benefits they have found, allowing them to further put into practice the leadership and communication skills whilst they are learning during their Cambridge MBA.

Putting into practice key learnings

The Entrepreneurship SIG sits across all verticals and is not sector specific. Andrew Ramsay (MBA 2018) explains why he took the role as Chair;

“Entrepreneurship is something I have always been passionate about it, and something Cambridge is also very passionate about; there are some incredible people and companies all around us. I stood up for the role to share this passion but also to learn and step out of my comfort zone. There is no doubt that being part of the SIG is a highlight for my time here”.

He goes onto to say; “Activities such as this SIG are one of the main reasons I chose to do an MBA in Cambridge. I believe the key component of the Cambridge MBA is learning to try new things.”

Entrepreneurship SIG visit to Founders Factory London.
Entrepreneurship SIG visit to Founders Factory London (Dec 2018)

The range of extracurricular activities can be wide ranging and potentially overwhelming, but a wise student soon learns where to target their energies and which societies and activities will not only enrich their year in Cambridge but enhance their career profile, as well as develop their career specific skill set and develop their global network even further.

Developing your network

For Jan Topolski (MBA 2018) the Real Estate Special Interest Group supported his ambitions to pursue a career in real estate investments. The members that came together to form the SIG at the start of the year came from diverse backgrounds, from the advertising industry to private equity. “The impact of the SIG”, he hopes, “will be to leave the members with a robust industry network and solid knowledge of the field by the end of the year”.

Working in partnership with the established networks in both London and Cambridge, as co-chair Jan built relations with the Cambridge University Land Society, as well as arranging successful company visits in London.

“The beauty of the Cambridge MBA is that we can tailor our experience, and the SIGs are the perfect way to explore things of specific interest that are outside of the School’s mainstream classes. The immediate benefit of belonging to a SIG is widening your own network and getting to know the people that are interested in similar topics”.

In connecting to and furthering Jan’s specific career goals he says;

“It is easy to lose focus during your MBA. There are a lot of exciting things happening at the same time. But committing to a SIG, especially as an active member, helps you to stay focused on a particular area of interest, and most importantly, build your industry network, by leveraging the power of the group”.

Kei Ikegami (MBA 2018) led the Cambridge Asia Business Network to promote the networking and development of business leaders specifically in Asia. He explains. “Through bridging connections between Cambridge and Asia, we seek to be the nexus binding the thought leadership of a world-class university with the dynamism of a vibrant and diverse new economic centre”.

“I am delighted to stand up and take the lead in running this special interest group, supporting this sector, expanding my own knowledge with a diverse class cohort who are sharing their perspectives and experience in this region, as well as my own”.

Cross School groups and events

Some SIGs at CJBS work across School and across programme, so the Women in Banking and Finance SIG draws its members from both the MBA and the MFin cohort. MFIn student Arina Kungeibayeva (Class of 2018) explains;

“When I started working in the bank four years ago, I realised that women are underrepresented in the sector, especially at the senior level. This was surprising for me, given that we have approximately the same number of women as men pursuing related degrees at the Bachelor level and joining companies at junior positions. As a strong advocate of female progression, I wanted to continue championing women’s empowerment in Cambridge”.

Two significant events now held annually grew initially out of the interests of the student body, the Wo+Men’s Leadership Centre Conference began in 2015 stimulated by MBA students interested in exploring the space for discussion and research on gender balance and inclusion in the workplace. Now a regular fixture, recent headline speakers have included the international designer and retailer Cath Kidston and from Uber, Laurel Powers-Freeling.

The Cambridge Africa Business Network also runs a key conference, this year’s theme ‘Growth in Africa’, saw over hundred delegates discuss emerging markets, opportunities and developments on the continent from policy makers to leaders and strategists.

Aline Borges (MBA 2018) is on the committee for the Wo+Men’s Leadership SIG. As the scope of the sector and the discussions were seen as very wide ranging, they divided their activities across five key themes;

“From social events, networking and panel discussions, through to awareness raising and promoting our initiatives across wider channels than the Business School, a mentoring programme – a ‘sisterhood’ concept, peer mentoring sessions within and across the SIG membership. We also covered a knowledge exchange, focusing on actions; career planning and promotion with skills workshops alongside. Finally, we initiated a ‘Men as Allies’ scheme. A one-to-one relationship with male counterparts to share and empower the messages formulated across the SIG”.

Energy & Sustainability SIG visit to Blue Water Energy, UK.
Energy & Sustainability SIG visit to Blue Water Energy, UK

The Energy and Sustainability SIG this year also supported and organised a major conference event at CJBS. Natalia Khetagurova (MBA 2018) explains “We began by mapping the energy networks that already existed across the city and the business school community, together with support from MBA and the School’s alumni networks we developed links with Cambridge University Energy Network (CUEN), Energy@Cambridge and Energy Policy Research Group (ERPG). Cambridge MBA faculty supported our network mapping and facilitated introductions and so we built our programme and content from the start of the year”.

“We arranged visits to the likes of Blue Water Energy, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, where I also ended up doing my Cambridge MBA Global Consulting Project and also during the UAE Trek members gained unique insights and knowledge”.

For Carlos Morales Rozo (MBA 2018) the resulting event was unparalleled;

Cambridge Energy Conference 2019.
Cambridge Energy Conference 2019

“For me the closing moment of the energy conference was the highlight of my Cambridge MBA year. Giving the final words and knowing how much effort and time everyone had put into the event; it was perfectly delivered and enormously well received. The content addressed the key topics impacting the energy sector now, the network and connectivity across the event was unrivalled”.

Career goals and sector expertise

For the innovative technology sector for which Cambridge is famous with its Cambridge Cluster and Silicon Fen eco system, the Technology SIG is chaired by scholarship student Vishal Jain (MBA 2018).

“I have always been enraptured by the transformative power of technology. Since the day I first experienced an escalator, to the time I learned how to use Google, and through my career in Sony exploring the bleeding edge of innovation; I knew that technology was my passion. I took up the SIG leadership role to share this passion with others and push myself to learn broadly from my peers who have wide-ranging experience globally and across innovation. I was also humbled to receive the Technology and Innovation Scholarship which bestowed a responsibility on me to lead the charge on the technology front”.

Vishal goes on to explain about his own career goals;

“I am looking for career readiness in terms of my technology literacy, interview skills, and general tech competencies with regards to Europe, as my experience has largely been limited to Asia. I intend to network and build and curate a community of like-minded individuals who are already in positions of influence within the world of technology. I am excited for the next steps in my career and the Tech SIG is the perfect vehicle to push me and my fellow classmates forward”.

Inclusion and innovation

The Pride@CJBS Club launched its programme earlier this year with a fireside chat with Martin Stead, CEO of Fintech company Nutmeg. Tian Tan (MBA 2018) says that the SIG has provided members with, “Unique opportunities to connect and reach out to industry leaders. Boston Consulting Group (BCG) supported our launch event and shared their insights through their own Pride@BCG community”.

Pride@CJBS Launch event LGBTQ+ SIG (Jan 2019).
Pride@CJBS Launch event LGBTQ+ SIG (Jan 2019)

For Varun Boughram (MBA 2018) the SIG was a kind of ‘petri dish’ for his learning. Varun was the Chair of the Healthcare SIG as well as the Communications Chair for the Social Innovation Group.

“For me the SIG is a learning ground, the social innovation SIG was particularly active running a number of events and panel discussions and inviting guests. It has been great to meet people across different backgrounds from engineering to media and then discover that they have always been interested in impact investing or in extending education to developing nations. Bringing these ambitions, ideas and entrepreneurs together you see the bubbles grow – with the SIG being a place to voice an opinion and share ideas. The SIG acts as a petri dish for innovation”.