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Travel and visa restrictions meant Amany Haniya had to leave her family behind when she started the Edinburgh MBA.

Each of Amany’s classmates started their journey on 11th September 2017, except her. She was stuck in Gaza, a place without airports, waiting for one of two options: to leave via the opening of the Rafah crossing to Egypt or get an Israeli permit to travel through Jordan.

Her place in Edinburgh had been assured since the summer when she applied for the temporary UK entry visas needed for her and her daughter to travel to Scotland. When her daughter’s was refused, she was left with the most difficult decision of her life. With time running out on her own visa, she asked Gisha, an Israeli NGO, to help negotiate her exit from Gaza, alone. Without its coordination and support, Israeli security checks could have taken months with no guarantee of success.

An extension was granted for the latest possible date of October 4th. On the morning of October 3rd a miracle happened:

“I got a call from Gisha telling me to come to the Israeli crossing immediately, to get the permit and travel. I hugged my daughter for the last time that year and rushed to the crossing.”

“After eight hours of waiting I finally left Palestinian lands for Jordan. I booked my flights while I was in the taxi heading to the airport. I arrived in Edinburgh at 8:30 am on October 4th, put my things in the hotel, had a shower and headed directly to the Business School.”

Amany’s interest in an MBA had grown as her career moved in new directions. She graduated as an electrical engineer from Islamic University of Gaza in 2012 but found herself working in project coordination for several international non-governmental humanitarian organisations, delivering infrastructure, education, health and relief to the Palestinian community.

“I saw an MBA as the perfect route to realise my goals: to come back to my country with more skills; and then to work in senior management in an international NGO abroad”, she explains.

With a desire to study at a high-ranking university in Europe, she settled on Edinburgh because of its international reputation, the beauty of the city and its peaceful environment. But more than that, it was her potential classmates:

“The diversity and gender-balance also appealed to me. This year’s class has 25 women and 20 men, from 22 different countries. Gender equality is becoming mainstream in Palestine, with many more women taking on senior roles in public and private organisations, but it’s still unusual for a woman to travel abroad alone to study. I felt Edinburgh would be a safe place for me.”

After securing her place at Edinburgh, Amany applied to the Hani Qaddumi Scholarship Foundation for funding. A Jordanian not-for-profit, its mission is to revitalise Palestine by providing international education opportunities to students who otherwise cannot fund their studies. A very competitive process, she was one of just two students to successfully receive a scholarship.

The first weeks were hard for her:

“I had to catch up on lectures I’d missed and adjust to life without my daughter and husband. My daily routine was attending classes, doing my homework and calling my family. I had planned to bring my husband and daughter here after I’d settled, and staying in Britain for the next two years. But the Egyptian crossing had only opened twice since I’d left, each time only taking a few hundred people from the thousand-strong waiting list.”

But the challenge has been worth it. As part of an option course on International Business and Context, Amany visited Colombia, where she and her classmates learned how business has supported the rebuilding of communities that were once destroyed by conflict:

“Since the fall of the drug cartels in the mid-1990s, they have recreated a sense of trust, making people feel responsible and highly committed to their communities once again. In Medellín, we met business and community leaders who had engaged local people to build new infrastructure.

“Colombia’s success in freeing itself from its association with conflict and instability is inspiring. For me it’s a lesson in what the private sector can achieve if it adopts a people-first, rather than profit-first approach, but also in the power of such projects to bring people together.

“The importance of public-private relations in developing the economy and society in general is a lesson I want to take back with me when I return to work in Gaza.”

For Amany, MBA benefits of the MBA like personal branding, career development and leadership skills, were apparent from the outset. But others, she knows, will become clearer through working. At the end of her MBA journey, she is reflective but positive.

“It has been lonely without my family, but I have learned a lot about being independent. I am confident I will return to my daughter stronger, and carrying hope and light into her future.”

Amany Haniya is a 2018 Edinburgh MBA. An original version of this article first appeared in the Economist.

Image source: Edinburgh MBAs in Colombia, 2018. Amany top, third from left.