Student Treks offer a unique way for our MBA and MSc students to gain industry insights in a real-world setting. In this student blog, Syed Ahmad Muslim (Full-Time MBA) shares why the Iceland MBA Trek shifted his perspectives on business and enhanced his learning experience beyond traditional coursework.
MBA students pictured outside Ossur on their recent Student Trek to Iceland

When I heard the MBA Student Trek would be held in Iceland, I was filled with excitement and thrilled about the opportunity. Partly because Iceland is a country known for its stunning natural wonders, but also because the theme, ‘Responding to Global Challenges: Financial, Social and Natural’, aligned perfectly with my passion for addressing complex issues in modern society such as the cost of living crisis, climate change, and sustainability.

There were a limited number of places available on this trip so I applied immediately and thankfully my application was accepted. The Trek was scheduled for three days towards the end of my MBA programme, from 21 to 24 June. This timing was ideal because the knowledge I gathered throughout my MBA would complement the trip’s itinerary.

Our first business engagement session was with Hrönn Ingólfsdóttir, Director of Corporate Strategy & Sustainability at Isavia Airport. We learned about how Iceland made a strong comeback following the pandemic and how Isavia strategically positioned themselves as part of a culture-building journey, moving away from the typical airport-as-a-service approach to improve its passengers' experiences. Hrönn also highlighted that the company now views sustainability as an all-encompassing strategy, touching every aspect of its priorities. For an airport, most of the carbon emissions come from external sources like airlines and passengers commuting to and from the airport. Despite these challenges, Isavia Airport has set an ambitious target to achieve carbon-free operations by 2030, which is truly inspiring.

Afterwards, we explored the iconic Golden Circle route, which covered three of Iceland’s most popular natural attractions: the Gullfoss waterfall, the Geysir geothermal area and Thingvellir National Park. These dramatic landscapes were captivating and reminded me of the fragility of our planet and the responsibility we have to protect it for the next generation.

MBA student, Syed Ahmad Muslim, looking into the distance with the ocean behind him in Iceland

The following day started with a meeting with Edda H. Geirsdottir, the VP of Corporate Communication at Össur, a company dedicated to enabling people with disabilities to live Life Without Limitations. What struck me most in this session was Össur's choice to embrace frugality as one of its core values. This unconventional approach challenged my preconceived notions of business practices. Instead, it was enlightening to hear how eliminating waste and maximising resources is their key to creating a circular economy. This opportunity to learn from Össur's vision and to see first-hand how a company can combine social impact with sustainable practices was extremely motivating.

Our next destination was Business Iceland for a presentation by Sigríður Dögg Guðmundsdóttir, Head of Business Iceland. Sigríður highlighted the numerous setbacks Iceland has faced over the years, including natural disasters and the challenges brought by the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite these hardships, the country has largely been able to rise above adversity through humour and back-to-basic principles. Sigríður showcased some of Business Iceland’s marketing campaigns to demonstrate this. They were simple yet relatable, capturing human elements and winning the hearts of people worldwide. These campaigns not only helped in recovery efforts but also accentuated the importance of unity, optimism, and the power of storytelling. The session left me with a valuable lesson that humour and a positive attitude can be powerful tools in overcoming challenges and promoting strengths.

The next stop – and my favourite of all the sessions – was with Brando Arnarson, Project Manager of Search & Rescue at ICE-SAR. This incredible institution operates independently, relying solely on its dedicated volunteers and minimal government assistance. I was initially curious about their concept and wondered how they could sustain themselves. But their resourcefulness and creativity amazed me. ICE-SAR has devised ingenious methods to raise funds, such as hosting fireworks displays during New Year events and selling figurines of their volunteers. Nevertheless, Brando explained that no amount of money could compensate for the extraordinary rescue efforts of ICE-SAR. Their deployment of helicopters, Jeeps, speedboats, and hundreds of dedicated volunteers incurs significant costs. But if money were part of the equation, the focus on saving lives could be compromised.

Group of UEBS MBA students on Iceland trek

This insight shifted my perspective entirely. It reminded me that some endeavours are driven by a higher purpose, where financial considerations alone cannot outweigh the value of human life. The session with Brando and the remarkable team at ICE-SAR showcased the power of purpose-driven work and the incredible things that can be achieved through volunteering and a community support. The engagement with ICE-SAR has not only enriched my understanding of the importance of humanitarian efforts but also reinforced the idea that true impact lies beyond financial considerations.

On our final day in Iceland, we visited the Ocean Cluster House to explore blue economy sustainability practices. We learned that 98% of fisheries waste in Iceland is transformed into valuable products, exhibiting their commitment to minimising waste. For example, they use fish skin in the medical industry to treat burns and skin trauma. This exemplified for me that the circular economy is very much achievable through innovation and collaboration in order to create a more sustainable future.

The Iceland trip gave me more than just beautiful landscapes, enriching experiences and valuable insights. It left me with a renewed commitment to making a positive impact in my life and future career and a sense of responsibility to respond to global challenges. Additionally, it was a joy being part of this trip with my diverse MBA cohort. We embraced lively debates, shared laughter and cherished the richness of our differences. This camaraderie went beyond the confines of our coursework and classroom modules and helped us to build close connections. I extend my heartfelt gratitude to the MBA team at the University of Edinburgh Business School for making this trip an incredible experience. I highly recommend Student Treks for future MBA candidates.

Syed Ahmad Muslim is a full-time MBA candidate.