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From armed rebels to government officials: First Sudanese MBA student receives AMBA's top honour

Student of the year Husameldin Elnasri speaks about his experiences at Lancaster University and the hopes he has for his homeland Sudan

Husam Elnasri was the first Sudanese student to join the Lancaster MBA, leaving his family and homeland to further his business career. He was tested professionally and personally during his year at Lancaster University Management School when he had to take time out from his intensive MBA studies to rush back to Khartoum when north and south Sudan returned to war.

Speaking to Husam, a self-described optimist, his decision to take an MBA came after he moved from rural development work into the corporate world, joining White Nile Petroleum Operating Company. As Husam became more involved in management, his interest in business and the partnerships created with communities developed.

“It made me realise that I needed a more structured way of understanding business and so I took the big decision of an MBA.”

Before his MBA, Husam had studied veterinary medicine at the University of Khartoum, working on community development projects while still studying, before being hired as White Nile’s community development field officer to plan and implement community projects. What started as a small project grew into a team of 50, investing $45 million into local community projects, including women’s empowerment, educational training and infrastructure development.

Husam’s passion for community development stems from his late grandfather, who initiated one of the first social enterprises in Sudan, allocating equity shares from his business into his charitable foundation supporting education and rural development.

His decision to study in the UK has not dented his enthusiasm for his native Sudan, especially the business opportunities the country offers. Although Husam acknowledges it can be ‘very challenging to operate an international business in Sudan due to the political instability, economic sanctions and insecurity’ in some areas, he maintains Sudan presents high potentials for businesses – especially in the fields of natural resources management and agriculture.

He cites his present employers, DAL Group, as a prime example of a responsible and successful Sudanese business; generating an annual revenue of around $2 billion.

Nonetheless, the situation in Sudan is still fraught. After South Sudan ceded from the north in July 2011, becoming the Independent Republic of South Sudan, there have been sporadic eruptions of conflict.

During his MBA Husam was invited to present as part of the module on Global Society and Responsible Management, bringing to fellow students his unique perspectives on global business within a very specific sphere.

“I like to think I gave my classmates a new perspective and a tool kit for responsible management in conflict affected states.” Husam says of the experience, commenting, “I am afraid the world is not getting any calmer and we are seeing many new focal points of conflict erupting all over the world.”

His wide experience in negotiation – from government officials to armed rebels – has taught Husam a few things, which he shared with students. Principally, he advocated honesty and a display of trust – which he thinks engenders reciprocal feelings with those he negotiates with: ‘If you leave them in the dark they will develop their own version of your motives and that is a waste of valuable time.’

Yet, one of the biggest challenge facing Sudanese businesses is not, according to Husam, the military conflicts, but finance.

“As Sudan is considered as a high-risk state, cost of finance is significantly high compared to other developing countries. The fact that there are economic sanctions on Sudan has made the situation even harder on entrepreneurs and local business to maintain their competitiveness.”

All his hard work has paid off: earlier this year, Husam was awarded the prestigious AMBA 'student of the year' award, sponsored by The Independent.

Looking to the future Husam is working towards becoming a regional agribusiness expert. He is optimistic about Sudan and Africa’s progress in the global business market: ‘I believe in the near future Africa will feed the world rather than the other way around. I would love to be part of that.’