Employing problem-solving skills and grit to get to Canada

Posted 2021-12-03

A group of young professionals from India faced unique challenges when they applied to study at the UBC Sauder School of Business in the middle of a global pandemic. Their efforts to file complicated documents, organize accommodation, flights, COVID-19 tests and quarantines during an unprecedented health crisis prepared them well for the rigours of their academic program and reinforced the value of teamwork.

Prior to applying to UBC Sauder, Namrita Lamba was working in the apparel industry in Bangalore. Having gained experience in product development, merchandising and supply chain management, she began to think about how to make fashion more environmentally sustainable. Utkarsh Wali was working for Cisco India in Bengaluru and project managing large-scale IT transformation projects. He was also motivated to go back to school to learn about sustainability in business. The two are part of a cohort of 40 Master of Business Administration (MBA) students from India that faced multiple bureaucratic hurdles in their journey to Canada.

“Our group is from India’s three largest cities – Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore,” explains Lamba. “Because of COVID-19 and study permit delays and all the other challenges, we started to work together and help each other in any way we could. Knowing we were not alone and being able to help one another really brought us together.”

Using the student online platform, Canvas, the incoming MBA students began having conversations and trying to help each other. They created a chat group on WhatsApp and exchanged information about the required documents and the new regulations imposed by both countries to limit international travel during COVID-19.

“There was a lot of chaos and panic in those months,” recalls Wali. “We all tried to help each other. There were some people who had deferred their studies from the previous year, so they were farther along in the process and were really helpful. Through hundreds of online conversations, friendships were formed.”

Despite applying months in advance, it wasn’t until the end of August 2021 that Lamba, Wali and several other students received their study permits and could finally fly to Canada. They stopped over in Cairo, Egypt where they met several other UBC Sauder MBA students.

Wali proceeded to Vancouver and began his mandatory 14-day quarantine alone in an apartment. Lamba decided to stay in Cairo with a group of students and participate remotely in their first week of their MBA program. After five days, they flew to Vancouver and quarantined.

“We know our students had massive challenges during the peak of the pandemic to pause their lives, make changes, for themselves, their families and navigate their way to Vancouver with changing rules and regulations,” says Shannon Sterling, Director, MBA Programs. “The tenacity and effort of this group of students to be present, engaged and to make an adventure of the way to Vancouver while remaining fully engaged every step of the way was inspiring, and really demonstrated the spirit of our students.”

For another member of the group, Bikram Singh, adjusting to life on the West Coast feels more natural every day.   

“With the passage of time, and as I get familiar with the campus, I see familiar faces around and never get bored of its serene landscapes and views. It feels like home now. Every corner gives a beautiful view and amazingly positive energy,” says Singh.

According to Wali, his classes are already having a profound effect.

“Professor Justin Bull is teaching us Ethics and Sustainability and right from the first hour in his class, I was fascinated. He encouraged us to explore and challenge. He literally asked us to open the doors of our brains and search for different aspects when we think about companies and what they are doing or not doing when it comes to sustainability and environmental change and climate change.”

As someone with an entrepreneurial mindset, Singh says he has been inspired by the MBA’s Fundamentals in Entrepreneurship course.

“Professor Fraser Pogue brings a new meaning to entrepreneurship in every class,” says Singh. “The definition, which I am learning through this program, is going to stay with me forever.”

Wali, Lamba, Singh, and the rest of the group from India bring to their cohort different perspectives that enliven classroom discussions and group projects. They also carry with them an understanding of how teamwork can overcome almost any obstacle – a tenet that they can apply not just in life, but in business too.