Last name: Mounir Nasri
Place of birth: Saudi Arabia
Place of residence: Toronto, Canada
Fun fact about yourself: I take the cold side of my pillow very seriously.
Undergraduate Program and Business School: BA Global Development Studies with distinction from Queen’s University and an MA in Management, Innovation and Entrepreneurship from the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University.
Can you tell us a bit about your life and career before you study a business degree?
I am a Syrian-Canadian-Armenian born and raised in Saudi Arabia where I attended an Italian school and an American school. My parents decided to return to Syria towards the end of my elementary school, where I mainly lived until I moved to Lebanon during the war in Syria and before arriving in Canada. Very young, I had the opportunity to have friends from different parts of the world and to be exposed to different cultures and ways of looking at life. It left a significant impact on me and kept me curious to learn more about how people experience and explore the world outside of what is familiar and familiar to me. I’ve always been a tech-savvy kid in school and at home, and wanted to work in a tech-related field, so I studied computer engineering right after high school. But then the war in Syria happened and everything changed. I ended up getting more involved in community work because it was necessary on the ground and the only thing I found meaningful at the time. I also worked in many fields – I worked in a warehouse, in a bookstore, sold used furniture and appliances for a while, I worked with international NGOs, I worked in technology and education, and helped launch a community development initiative that reached over 100 people in one year. Over the past five years in Canada, I have worked in the Newcomer Inclusion and Settlement Space in Toronto, where I have led a number of entrepreneurship, employment, skills and community development for new Canadians.
Tell us about your decision to seek refuge and relocate, and the journey that involved?
The decision was fairly quick and driven by necessity rather than choice. One of my best friends was kidnapped and the bombardment practically reached my bedroom balcony. I was finishing my first year of college and at one point it was extremely dangerous to just go to school. It was then that I knew I had to leave and find a safer place to live. I first moved to Lebanon and was fortunate enough to continue my education there. However, it was a difficult journey with many rapid changes that required a lot of flexibility and outside the box thinking to navigate a series of challenges and complexities.
What did you find most difficult about arriving in a whole new country?
Canada, and more specifically Toronto, is a unique place to land, especially if you’ve always had friends from different parts of the world. The diversity of people and thoughts is amazing and it has helped me to seize the opportunities and call this place home. Home for me has always been a place with people from all over the world. I am grateful to have had friends and community members who helped me and my family when we first arrived, and sadly I know that is not the reality for many newcomers arriving today. At the beginning of the installation, it was difficult to ensure that my parents are well supported and able to find meaningful opportunities while working hard to develop myself and my career. In a normal situation it’s the other way around, but I knew it was a short phase until they were fully installed. This is the reality of many newcomer and refugee families where children tend to have more responsibilities than they should while building their own futures. It is not easy and more support is needed for them and for parents who find it difficult to assess their diplomas and transfer their skills and experience to the labor market.
Why did you decide to apply to the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University and the Masters in Management, Innovation and Entrepreneurship?
I wanted to further develop my skills, expand my network and pursue graduate studies in a field that is close to my heart and that allows me to find and create meaningful opportunities in different spaces. MMIE at Smith School of Business was the right place for this. Thinking back to my journey as a refugee, a certain level of innovation was a big part of it. I had to be innovative on a daily basis to navigate the world – from the challenges of not having a proper legal status to the challenges of finding a job and learning opportunities amidst uncertainty. I realized that innovation becomes a necessity when you are forced to overcome complex obstacles and challenges. I applied to MMIE because I knew it was the perfect place to further develop my management and business skills and learn how to drive innovation wherever I go.
How was your experience and what did you find the most difficult?
One of the many unique things about MMIE is that it gave me the opportunity to continue my role full time while continuing my education. I was able to learn from work and school at the same time and apply different ways of thinking and learning in both worlds. I have worked throughout my school career and it is never easy. It takes a lot of sacrifice and persistence, but it is well worth it.
Can you tell us about your life and career after graduation?
A global pandemic was definitely not on the list of things I expected for life after graduation and in the final stages of my program. I’m grateful that I had the support I needed and was able to navigate another complex situation. I became a Canadian citizen and got published, made the transition and accepted a new full-time position at the start of a pandemic just before graduation, did a final project of significant master’s degree with a global consulting company, I biked and hiked a lot and camped with some of my favorite people, had a great coffee everyday, made new myself virtual friends, I have read new books, I have spoken at a number of events and conferences, and I have supported my community and those around me as much as I can. While these are not my primary goals for my life and career after graduation, I am grateful for it all and excited about what life will bring once the pandemic is over.
What skills have you used from the program in your career?
Where do I even start. MMIE and Smith have given me the skills and knowledge to better understand the world of business and entrepreneurship in a global and North American context. It gave me the mindset and the tools I need to better bring people together to drive innovation in all organizations. Much of what I learned was about innovation and strategic thinking, which was extremely helpful at work during the pandemic as we constantly had to find new ways of doing things while developing our new strategy on 5 years with our partners.
What advice would you give to other refugees who wish to leave their country and are considering studying a business degree?
Many refugees seek to leave their countries and find better opportunities abroad, but people still face many inequalities and obstacles. From visa restrictions to travel and financial restrictions. Unfortunately, in the world we are in, it is a privilege to be able to resettle or travel elsewhere, and we need to talk about how only a small portion of the world’s refugees can find better opportunities abroad.
To people looking to leave their country and plan to study abroad, I would say:
Your perspective, your experience and what you have to offer the world is extremely valuable. Never underestimate this. One of the best advice I have received is that if you don’t ask the answer will always be no. If you need anything, ask for it. Ask for help and communicate your needs properly, and you would be surprised how many ordinary people and citizens are willing to volunteer their time to help. Most importantly, be open to change and never miss an opportunity to learn or connect with someone who can offer a new way of seeing the world.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
The pandemic has brought a lot of uncertainty to the world but it can also be an opportunity to reimagine things and what is possible. On the contrary, the pandemic has shown how fragile our systems can be and it has magnified the social and economic consequences of all kinds of inequities that exist in society today. There is no reason why we cannot change that and work towards a more sustainable future where everyone participates fully in society and is able to take full advantage of what the world has to offer.
If you asked me five years ago, being where I am today was completely out of sight. That’s why for my next five years, I don’t want to limit my thinking to just one possibility because there are so many possibilities out there. What I do know is that I want my next five years to be full of growth and learning while having significant impact, change and transformation in whatever space I find myself in. and inclusive initiatives. I want my work to make a bigger difference locally and globally, and it can happen in many ways and in different contexts. I want my next few years to be full of new ideas, adventures, and great meal conversations with people from all over the world. I have a vision of what I want and where I see myself based on a set of priorities and values, and that’s enough because that’s what matters most in the end.
DON’T MISS: MEET THE REFUGEES FROM BUSINESS SCHOOLS