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Students find strength and motivation in overcoming adversity

Why it matters:

As part of Beet Week, students and alumni shared experiences that shaped their perceptions of philanthropy, service, and giving.

From the death of a parent to caring for earthquake survivors to breaking down longstanding barriers, six Johns Hopkins Carey Business School students and one alumna recently shared inspirational and emotional stories of overcoming personal challenges and finding ways to help others. 

Part of this years Beet Week celebration, the seven talked about how their experiences shaped their perceptions of philanthropy, service, and giving and their commitment to the Carey Business School’s core value of unwavering humanity. 

Fayez Ahmed 

Fayez Ahmed, MBA ’24 is a nonprofit founder, but the impetus for his organization grew from seeing the impact of crisis for himself. Ahmed grew up in Dhaka, India as part of a middle-class family. He describes his life as “privileged” until his father died as Ahmed was completing high school His father’s death threatened to derail his plans to go to college. 

Looking for experience and some extra money, Ahmed joined a flood relief campaign in India and work with the community that had lost everything. That, he says, changed his life.

“I believe working in these 10 days with this nonprofit organization helped me understand how nonprofit works,” he said.

The initial experience set him on a path to pursue nonprofit work, which led to work with the United Nations Development Programme. His own nonprofit, Asun Kichu Kori in Bangladesh, started by cleaning up trash after Eid al-Fitr and has grown into an organization that provides medical consultations, an emergency blood bank, and startup assistance for small businesses. Asun Kichu Kori includes volunteers in that work, which he says helps teach others about leadership and business.

Enrolling at Carey Business School merged his degree pursuit with his values and mission in life. And he challenged others to do the same. 

“I invite you to invest your time into volunteerism,” he told event attendees. It's the space where we can apply our learning and learn and do it in the right way in the real world.” 

Irene Quarshie 

Irene Quarshie, MBA/MPH ’24, began her medical career in Ghana. There, she treated Lucy, an 8-year-old girl with a debilitating bone condition. When Lucy’s family could no longer afford Quarshies care, the physician lost track of the child. Feeling “powerless” and “helpless” Quarshie became involved with microinsurance, which provides coverage for low-income households and is tailored to their specific health needs.

“Here at the Carey Business School, we are taught to think of business as a force for good, a tool to solve societal problems by embracing different perspectives and thinking strategically,” Quarshie told the audience. “Think of the businesses and the problems in the worlds that you really care about, and then think of how you could solve it and help somebody else. My challenge to you is to consider unwavering humanity as a call for you to build a business that is not just the best in the world, but it's the best for the world and the best for yourself. It's not just good practice, it's good business.” 

Sneh Sonaiya 

Sneh Sonaiya, MPH/MBA ’24, is also a doctor originally from Kambala, India. Growing up, Sonaiya said, he believed philanthropy was something “wealthy people” did for the very poor. That perspective evolved because of his parents' influence.

As a young boy, Sonaiya and his family survived a devastating earthquake. Although his family suffered loss, Sonaiya recalled, his father gave him 100 rupees—the equivalent of $.120—to donate to a local relief fund. His mother also modeled a culture of giving, telling him, “The true measure of generosity or philanthropy is not based on the size of one's wallet but based on the depth of compassion and willingness to make a change in the lives of others.” Years after the earthquake, Sonaiya and his sister traveled to the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, where they volunteered to feed thousands of visitors at the temple’s famed community kitchen. 

The last missing piece in his evolving understanding of philanthropy was the idea of collective impact, which he says he gained coming to Johns Hopkins. 

“As I stand before you today, I have promised myself to redefine philanthropy in my own life, he told the crowd. "I believe that everyone here has the power to make a difference in the lives of others and engage in philanthropy. And it all starts with simple acts of kindness and compassion.”

Omodunni Oloko 

Omodunni Oloko, MPH/MBA ’25, called her father her greatest source of inspiration and the one who instilled in her the belief that education could open doors. It isn’t hard to imagine how devastating it was to lose him when she was 20 years old. 

Growing up in Nigeria, Oloko was keenly aware that educational opportunities are often unavailable to black people or women. After finding her way to Johns Hopkins, Oloko is on a mission to change longstanding cultural inequities. including the gap in female and Black representation in leadership. 

Oloko is trying to make a difference by mentoring young women who need help in pursuing advanced education.  She shared the story of Esther, an American teen she helped get into college.

"I saw that she really wanted to go to school. She really wanted to actualize her dreams,” Oloko explained. With Oloko’s guidance and encouragement, Esther is completing her degree in computer science. 

“I strongly believe that each of us has a role to play in mentoring the younger generations,” said Oloko. “If you do have the resources, I would employ you to encourage one younger person

in your community, in your circle, help them through their goals, their educational pursuits.”

Jessica Mambula 

Jessica Mambula, MPH/MBA ’24, also comes from Nigeria and practiced medicine in Jamaica. She also founded Jessicare, a nonprofit, non-governmental organization that reaches the most vulnerable in society by providing health care and economic development for self-sufficiency and education. 

In her talk, Mambula equated life’s journey to air travel, filled with arrivals, departures, connecting flights, and turbulence. She did not expect her journey would lead to Carey Business School.

“When I say I'm in the MBA Health Care, Innovation, and Technology [specialization], it means that I am able to translate the words that I have learned and carry them to the business fields in Africa, to be able to use that technology to tell them their businesses are going to increase, to tell them that they can be profitable,” Mambula said. Her aim now is to share the knowledge she has gained to help other achieve their own “successful landing.” 

Umme Hanee Answary 

Umme Hanee Answary, MBA ’25, grew up in Bangladesh. Before coming to Carey Business School, she worked in the banking industry and was an advocate for women’s wellness and social impact initiatives in her home country. 

 Answary’s father died of cancer when she was very young, which deeply impacted her studies. Despite her loss, Answary pushed ahead with her mother’s support. Answary encouraged the audience to support others so that they can succeed. 

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Sarah Flammang 

Sarah Flammang, MBA ’14, is deputy secretary for the Maryland Department of Service and Civic Innovation. Flammang also helped build and grow Baltimore Core, a nonprofit organization that enlists talent to advance social innovation and establish a citywide agenda for equity and racial justice, and she recently served as interim president and CEO leading the organization's growth to scale nationally through City Corps. Throughout her career, Flammang says, she has focused on bringing people together to solve important issues. 

“My story is one of persistence, passion, and purpose, all in the name of service to others,” said Flammang. “Service, as many of you know, has a way of bringing out the best in people, both their skills as they serve others, and the ability to connect people across lines of difference. I know service is important to many of you in this room.” 

Celebrating Beet Week 

The emotional evening marked the start of Beet Week, Carey Business School’s annual celebration of the philanthropic legacy of Wm. Polk Carey. Wm. Polk Carey is the benefactor of the Carey Business at Johns Hopkins. In 1986, Carey repaid a debt left to beet farmers by his grandfather two decades earlier when his sugar company went bankrupt. Carey was not obligated to repay the debt, but he felt it was the right thing to do. Since 2018, Carey Business School has spent a week each spring commemorating that spirit with fundraising and fellowship events for alumni and students. You can learn more about Beet Week here.

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