A recent graduate of our Weekend MBA, Zaina Jabur, transformed her Final Project into a real-world business venture in the humanitarian sector.

The Final Project elective applies all the theory learnt on the MBA to a real-world business problem. Zaina worked on a project for the Humanitarian Leadership Academy (the Academy). The Academy has been able to use the diagnostic and the insights from the diagnostic to craft a broader organisational development strategy.

Forming a partnership

During an Imperial MBA event, Zaina met Samantha Rockey, the Co-Founder and Director of Thompson Harrison.

In her speech at the event, Samantha was talking about her previous work as the Global Head of Leadership Development for SAB Miller. Samantha worked on the biggest corporate acquisition in UK when AB in Bev, bought out the organisation.

Zaina listened with great interest in the audience. As a trained Doctor of Psychiatry, Samantha’s work on organisational resilience resonated with her personal efforts in strength resilience in the medical industry. Zaina said:

I was in the audience listening to Samantha and I was so inspired by the work she had done that I approached her just to ask: can I learn from you and would you be willing to mentor me? I offered to help with whatever projects her company was working on, in order to learn. So we started thinking about what we could do for my Final Project.

On how the partnership came together, Samantha said, “it was a combination of luck and recognition that our different approaches could be brought together to design something meaningful for the Academy”.

Their interdisciplinary experience is one of the reasons the project was so successful. Zaina’s psychological and medical background and Sam’s background in leadership and organisational development meant they could look at the project from very different perspectives. Samantha said:

I’ve worked in the private sector for many years, so applying some of the principles that are perhaps not as well entrenched in the humanitarian sector but are well known in the private sector in this work that we’ve done has been quite helpful.

A diagnostic on resilience in the humanitarian sector

For Zaina’s final project, they transferred the application of a diagnostic tool Samantha created at Thompson Harrison to the Humanitarian Leadership Academy.

The project came at the perfect time for the Academy, who were undergoing a restructure. Beginning as an incubator in Save the Children, they had grown to a point where they are moving from a non-profit to a social enterprise model to be sustainable.

The diagnostic uses quantile and qualitative measures to identify the sources of long-term resilience in the whole organisation. The aim is to explore if there are variables associated with individual resilience and organisational performance measures. The project specifically explored the relationship between social capital and both individual and organisational thriving.

With the support of the senior leadership team, they rolled out the diagnostic in the organisation at the end of October 2017 and received 90% response rate.

Zaina says, “We took the quantitative data that we collected from the survey, analysed it and that informed follow-up anonymised interviews with various members of the organisation. Then I used that information to make a thematic analysis. It came up with some really lovely insights about the organisation and we provided them with an in-depth report and presentation.”

One of the key findings from the diagnostic is that leadership has the role to provide a clear sense of shared purpose of the organisation. The Academy’s mission brings people together so that relationships can grow.

It appears that working relationships and collaboration around a shared mission foster social bonds which then reinforce employees’ link to the Academy. This creates conditions where people feel less stressed, are happier and satisfied, fulfilled by their contribution, not only to the company but to the greater society.

From left to right: Samantha Rockey, Jade Said and Zaina Jabur

The leadership team at The Academy have found the project extremely useful as they go through transformation both in the organisation as well as the sector. Chris Lane, Chief Operating Officer, says:

As a new organisation, keeping our staff happy is critical to our organisation’s performance. This research has really helped identify what the pressure points for staff are and how we can get the best out of them and keep everyone fulfilled in the work they do to support communities facing humanitarian emergencies. We know there is still a lot to do in terms of resilience and the results have fed into our high-performance organisation strategy, helping us to put staff first on key issues.

Beyond the Weekend MBA Final Project

The Humanitarian Leadership Academy are so excited with the insights, they believe it will be useful to other organisations in the wider sector. Following the project’s submission in December, Zaina and Samantha have had several meetings with the Academy including the CEO and COO to discuss the possibilities.

The senior leadership team see the diagnostic as a way to help other organisations in the sector thrive. Zaina says, “The humanitarian sector is a place with a high rate of success, but also some challenges, including a high turn-over rate and burnout. Organisations suffer as a result of that and this is an intervention that can make a big difference in the sector.”

Upon the Academy’s request, Zaina and Samantha are currently working on a proposition for the organisation to create a plan for a consultancy project. Zaina’s Final Project has yielded very successful results and developed a life of its own. Chris says:

We are also using these insights to support others in the humanitarian sector by developing tried and tested organisational solutions that enable and empower their staff to deliver more while growing professionally and personally in a harmonious, resilient and sustainable way.”

Zaina’s MBA journey

Coming from the medical industry, the Imperial MBA has given Zaina the ability to utilise her skills in a more business sense. She says:

Since I was an experienced student with more than 10 years of experience in senior roles, the MBA taught me the language that allowed me to take my skills that I acquired from my background in the healthcare, education and psychology world and to translate those skills to the business world and to the organisational level. The school showed me how I could use my expertise in a transferable way, allowing me to bring fresh ideas into leadership and organisational development.

The Global Experience Week in South Africa with Paolo Taticchi also really impacted this project as they visited a lot of social enterprises and got an in-depth understanding of how they work.

Zaina and her Weekend MBA class in South Africa

Zaina gives current and future MBA students at Imperial College advice for their Final Project:

Don’t be afraid to approach anyone around any topic that you find interesting. Try and figure out what you have a passion for, pursue that and be genuine about it. Share the fact that you are there to help and that’s exactly what I did with Samantha. I wanted to help in any way so I could learn.

Zaina has recently graduated from Imperial College Business School and continues to apply her MBA learnings in her role. She is also part of the Brunswick Group Tomorrow’s Leaders Programme and you can read an article she published for them here.