In 2017, Zeinab Alliji was exhausted. The 27-year-old management consultant felt burnt out, after working herself into the ground at a London consulting firm.

But a much-needed move to Australia and completing her MBA at AGSM @ UNSW Business School helped her rebalance her life – and discover a career in which she could use her passion for helping women.

Shocked at the low levels of venture funding and leadership representation for women in Australia – not to mention the lack of opportunity for those from diverse cultural groups – today Zeinab focuses on creating openings and channels for them to step up and speak out.

Here’s how she got there.

How an MBA opened the next career door

The daughter of Ugandan refugees who arrived in the UK in the 1970s, Zeinab grew up watching her parents work incredibly hard to provide for her and her sisters. Her father instilled within her a strong work ethic and a drive to provide opportunities for people without easy access to them.

Zeinab wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps. But it wasn’t easy.

“I had to work really hard to find the opportunities and meet the right people to learn about things like an MBA or getting a career in finance. That wasn't what anyone around me was doing or what my school really pushed,” says Zeinab.

Despite this, Zeinab threw herself into building a career at a major consulting firm. But the all-too-common 70-hour weeks took their toll. As she reached her late twenties, Zeinab was burning out, sacrificing her personal goals for work but not feeling a sense of satisfaction about moving herself forward outside of her career.

But then came a chance for a complete sea change in the form of an overseas move.

“I was really struggling to keep things together when an offer came out of the blue to help grow my firm’s Australian practice. Even my mum insisted I go. I think I had reached a point where I needed a complete life change,” Zeinab recalls.

In Australia, Zeinab could focus on her mental health and physical wellness, which helped her recover from burnout. It gave her the energy to prioritise her goals and focus on what got her excited, and she thought an MBA could help her take the next meaningful and important step in her career.

After hearing about AGSM @ UNSW Business School’s MBA programs, she enrolled in the part-time Executive Program, so she could continue working. But the demanding hours of her job in consulting meant Zeinab couldn’t focus properly on her studies. Thanks to an AGSM scholarship she was able to switch to full-time studies.

“My scholarship afforded me the opportunity to study and ask myself the big questions: What are my passions? Where do I want to go? And how do I want to set my life up for the future?” she says.

The greatest gift of an MBA: a fulfilling work-life balance

Completing her AGSM MBA gave Zeinab a new lease on work and life. Today, she balances her life through careful project planning, a focus on health and wellbeing and using techniques she learned during her MBA.

“I learned how important consistency is in both your career and personal life. I use the time quadrant tool a lot from my MBA – splitting my time into things that are important and urgent, delegating where I need to or dropping things that aren’t important. It helps remind me I’m in this for the long haul.

“On the personal side the program has taught me how to be what they call a ‘corporate athlete’. Eating, exercising and sleeping well and maintaining whatever I need to make sure that my mental fitness is at peak,” Zeinab explains.

“That’s how I’ve been able to pick up a lot more projects without being burnt out, take on a larger load and do more and be more ambitious, pushing myself harder to do more things – without it taking a toll.”

Zeinab leans on the ongoing engagement with both her MBA cohort peers she connected with and techniques she learned in her studies. But she says the greatest gift from her time at AGSM is the confidence to rethink her career.

She credits the Designing Your Life subject as pivotal to making conscious choices to only say ‘yes’ to opportunities that align with her values and goals. And right now, those goals are focused on encouraging women in leadership.

“Post-MBA, I’ve realised that leadership can take on many roles in different circumstances. I realised I have a lot of knowledge and expertise to share with others for positive impact. For me, leadership is now about how I can enable and inspire more people to do things they want to do.”

Investing in the next generation of leaders 

Today, Zeinab isn't just investing in herself; she’s using her resources to help other leaders thrive through angel investing. Zeinab started exploring the funding solution during her AGSM MBA.

“Only 2% of venture funding the goes toward female founders globally, and even less goes to minority groups. To me, that narrative is really concerning. I wanted to do something to change things.”

So, she started looking into venture capital, and then angel investing.

“I wanted to enable more people to get funding who wouldn’t necessarily get it otherwise. I also wanted to find value-based investments with a positive impact on the world – ensuring we’re leaving it in a better place.”

Now she has completed her MBA, Zeinab is an angel investor and advisor to start-ups and scale-ups across several sectors, investing primarily in female- and minority-led businesses across Australia and the UK.

But Zeinab’s approach doesn’t just end with writing a cheque. She’s committed to supporting founders as much as possible through things like developing sales funnels and facilitating introductions to potential mentors and others who might help raise more capital. Zeinab leans on the skills and learnings as well as the network she gained from her AGSM MBA.

Zeinab has made plenty of connections via her AGSM MBA. Photo: Supplied Zeinab has made plenty of connections via her AGSM MBA. Photo: Supplied

The connections she’s made through her MBA have also played an important role in her latest venture, Lattes with Leaders – a podcast that shares the experiences of senior female business leaders who share their advice on how to make it to the boardroom. Zeinab launched the podcast in October 2021 with fellow AGSM graduate, Trisha Shashtri.

“I connected with incredible senior leaders through the local and international AGSM alumni network. I was getting so much from conversations with them, and I wanted to try and bring those conversations to a wider audience,” says Zeinab.

Today, Zeinab has not only provided C-suite women with a platform to share their stories and offer insights to others working their way up the corporate ladder – she’s also powering a more equal future by providing funding for the next generation of female entrepreneurs.