At age 22, Ayesha used to be one of the youngest prime time radio hosts in India, a country where 49 million households own radio sets.
Slipping that first record onto the radio waves—James Blunt’s You’re Beautiful, she now admits with a cringe—business school couldn’t have been farther from her mind.
But six years later, Ayesha has now helped with Bottom of Pyramid microfinance loans through Grameen Financial Services, come home from France with an INSEAD degree, and finally joined the mobile marketing company inMobi in Singapore, where, she remarks disbelievingly, “there are literally no poor people.”.
We sat down with the bubbly Bangalore native to get some insight into what one MBA alumna’s life has been like before and after her Prodigy Finance loan.
How did you get into radio?
I was one of those unconventional Indians who didn’t study IT or engineering. So my first job out of college was at an all-English start-up radio station. It was a considerable risk. My parents were cool about the whole creative thing, but then when I got a job at a start-up radio station, they were a little worried. But it was a fantastic learning experience—building a radio station from the ground up. Before long I had my first regular radio show. It’s as much fun as people imagine it to be, but also a lot more work.
Your next pre-MBA job was at the Grameen Bank. How was that?
I joined when the organization was making a very interesting transition from a non-profit to a for-profit social enterprise. So the company’s change of image needed to be managed very carefully because, for a lot of people outside the industry, “for profit” and “social development” don’t go together.
The work was very intense. I felt ashamed that in all the years prior to this job, I hadn’t really seen or understood that side of my country. The people I met were so desperately poor, yet also desperately hopeful that their children would do better. You read about it in the newspapers, but seeing it is very different. So I would travel to these villages trying to understand the locals and figure out how we could make their lives better.
Through the job, I had to meet with investors and bankers and the like, and they’d often ask me for detailed cash flow and growth reports. So I had to figure out what these were and how to prepare them . That’s when I started seeing the gap between what I needed to know, and what I could actually do. An MBA was the perfect way to bridge that gap.
So then you applied and got into INSEAD.
I got into INSEAD, and it was to much fanfare for me. But when that subsided, I realized that, to be able to cover 52,000 Euros is a huge task, especially when Indian banks cannot lend that much. INSEAD did give me a scholarship, but when you add up all the costs, it’s not enough. That’s when Prodigy Finance came through, and I’m really grateful for that, because if it hadn’t been for Prodigy Finance, I probably wouldn’t have been able to attend INSEAD.
What are you doing now, at inMobi?
I work closely with new app developers who say, “I’ve got a great game but now I need to market it”. There is a science to popularizing a mobile app. It involves lots of data crunching and numbers—so I’m putting my INSEAD education to good use. I’ve become a total Excel and PowerPoint monkey!
Do you plan on returning to India?
Not in the immediate future, but definitely—or I hope so—in 10 to 15 years. I love it. It’s such an exciting place. And it’s my home; it’s where I grew up; it’s the place that’s given me the most—so of course I’ll always want to go back.
You might also find this student’s life story at Cranfield interesting.
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