From Tehran to Vancouver: Embracing change through the UBC MBAN
Saba Shokoohisolgi left Iran with a dream to make an impact through business. After studying in the United States, Asia and Europe, she ultimately landed in Vancouver to pursue a UBC Master of Business Analytics (MBAN). By defying expectations and advancing her career, she hopes to inspire other girls and young women in Iran to pursue their goals.
Finding her strength
Growing up in Iran, a country that ranks in the bottom five of the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 1, Shokoohisolgi learned early to fight for her goals.
“Growing up in that environment taught me that if I want to pursue my dreams, I have to be extra proactive, curious and courageous,” she says. “Because if there is one thing you learn growing up as a girl in Iran, it is that you cannot take anything for granted in life.”
Shokoohisolgi counts herself lucky to have experienced early role models of independent female entrepreneurs. As a girl, she attended a bilingual private school in Tehran that was owned by two strong women. Being educated under their training and guidance pushed her to go beyond her boundaries and helped her believe that she could achieve success – on her own terms.
“I always dreamed of becoming a strong woman like them,” she recalls. “They were working hard to make an impact. It was challenging, in that environment, to raise little girls to become achievers who believed in themselves and their capabilities, and so every time I wanted to give up, I reminded myself of them.”
The path towards her dream of one day becoming a successful entrepreneur was filled with obstacles. The first was her gender – Shokoohisolgi had limited choices when it came to her post-secondary education in Iran. The second, surprisingly, was her excellent grades. Because of her impressive high test scores in high school, she was pushed to go to engineering school instead of pursuing business and finance studies. Instead of seeing it as a setback in her entrepreneurial aspirations, she saw it as an opportunity to leverage what she was learning towards her goal.
From industrial engineering to studying business abroad
Her perseverance paid off. As soon as she graduated from industrial engineering in 2015, she was accepted into a Master in Global Entrepreneurial Management program through the University of San Francisco. Shokoohisolgi left Tehran to complete her first semester in Barcelona, the second in Taiwan, and the last in San Francisco.
Through the program, she experienced new and different lifestyles and cultures, and networked with entrepreneurs and start-up owners across Asia, Europe and the United States. The experience helped her hone in on the direction she wanted to take her career.
“After pitching a business idea and business plan while in Taiwan, I decided that rather than becoming an independent entrepreneur, I wanted to gain experience in different industries and be an intrapreneur who seeks new and innovative approaches within an organization.”
A new direction and place to call home
Though she sought stability, her travels also taught her not to fear change. She started looking for the right city to call home and transition her career path towards working with innovative companies as a management consultant. With her focus on quality of life and interest in the tech sector, she was drawn to the west coast lifestyle of Vancouver and the globally recognized UBC Master of Business Analytics (MBAN).
As she was preparing to start the program in 2020, UBC moved to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Shokoohisolgi quickly learned to rely on her virtual community of peers and professors, as well as the mentors she found through the Strategy Consulting Mentorship Program (SCMP) at UBC Sauder.
Taking the three to four-month SCMP, which aims to prepare students for consulting interviews and life at a firm, at the same time as the MBAN program was intense, but Shokoohisolgi says she wouldn’t change her journey.
“I'm extremely grateful because I learned a lot about how to approach a problem and strategize. My passion has always been strategy, and I want to explore ways that I can improve outcomes through advanced analytics and removing bias from the decision-making process.”
An exciting career in the tech sector
Since graduating in 2021, Shokoohisolgi has been working at multinational software company, SAP. On top of her current role as a Vancouver-based IT application consultant, which mainly focuses on the digital transformation of companies to Cloud, she was recently invited to take part in a project with the organization’s strategy team to create a business case for a new solution developed by SAP.
“I'm using a lot of company and industry data to create scenarios and business use cases to make estimates about the industry and potential revenue generation of the solution that we are working on in future,” she explains.
Shokoohisolgi still has her eyes set on management consulting, but she has also learned to embrace and enjoy the steps along the way. She continues to rely on the UBC Sauder community as she advances her career, including the dedicated Hari B. Varshney Business Career Centre. She says she is motivated to succeed so she can be a role model and mentor for girls in Iran.
“One thing about me is that I never give up,” she says. “I take a step back, make modifications and adjustments in my approach and try to find another way to reach my goal.”