Moojan Asghari: Breaking the barriers to Change
Individuals are hard-wired by the creativity of the generation which precedes them. They grow by the experiences, encounters, and opportunities thrown along the way; some of which are game-changers evoking progress.
Over the past 30 years, technology has transformed our business landscape catalyzing globalization and, in turn, provoking change. As workforces become increasingly internationalized, the exchange of ideas and concepts has accelerated, and increasingly cultural boundaries are defied. Whereas before ideas often remained landlocked deep within a culture, globalization has encouraged a fusion and mix of opinions. This cultural diversity is key because it nurtures creativity which is, in turn, at the root of progress and change. It, therefore, goes without saying that education plays an implicit role in this. As educational institutions increasingly welcome international students and academic staff, they promote the sharing of ideas and theories. In doing so, they are promoters of change.
Moojan Asgari is a good example. She is a determined young lady who can only inspire. Born in Tehran, an amazing capital city nestled in a horseshoe of mountains close to the Caspian Sea, her educational background has allowed her to appreciate the cultural gap. It is just, in fact, this cultural diversity that has helped to shape her and achieve what she is doing today. If you take a look at her Linkedin profile she describes herself as a "Multipotentialite", curious, passionate entrepreneur, inspired by the power of the human mind and the potential of technology together to transform the quality of our lives” and this certainly encapsulates this determined 2015 FE Track graduate.
Tell us a little about your background
I’m Iranian and I did my higher education in Tehran. I had never really traveled a lot so when I decided to carry on my studies outside my country it was kind of a big thing. The only time I went afar was for my GMAT which I needed to travel to Istanbul and Dubai for it! During this period, I was really determined to experience study outside Iran so I applied to many business schools around the world but I was particularly attracted to EDHEC Business School so I was really pleased when I was accepted to Lille in 2012. At the time I thought that I was destined to do Marketing but while in Lille I quickly realized that I wanted to do Finance and that’s how I ended up in Nice studying Corporate Finance & Banking in the Financial Economics track.
Tell us about your arrival in France?
When I arrived in France, it goes without saying that I’d chosen to study in a country which is very different from my own. I was really pleased to be at EDHEC but on the other hand, it was all very new and I didn’t just want to learn the language, I wanted to integrate as quickly as possible. EDHEC has a huge amount of associations so I joined as many as I could and this was a good way of doing so. This international aspect of my education continues to be a huge advantage because it is not just about mastering a language it is more than that.
Can you explain this comment a little more?
Well, perhaps the tradition “taarof” encapsulates this. It will certainly make you laugh anyway… Taarof is a way of showing courtesy in Iran. It could be described as a game of insistence. How could I describe it? … I guess like someone offering you a sandwich, but you decline more than twice before you accept it. This doesn’t work, of course, in Europe. If you decline more than once that’s it, perhaps even a missed opportunity! It didn’t take me long to grasp this… I knew pretty quickly that it was better to abandon Taarof while in Europe! I guess this is just a little example of the kinds of adjustments some international students must make when they decide to study abroad. Once understood you have a passport for the world! I would say I am neither Iranian, French…. I am international and that is a gift.
During your years of study what struck you in particular when considering cultural diversity?
It really made me think of the gender gap that exists in many countries which is something I had never really explored before. This became an ongoing theme as well when I started working in AI in France. In Iran, there are more women going to university to study engineering so there’s not really a gender gap in the field of education. It’s more about how you behave, how you dress but never about “If I’m a woman I can’t do maths” which is the case in some European countries where women are not encouraged to do maths or go into finance. It made me think about the different barriers which women face in life and in their professional life and I guess this was heightened when I went to look for a job. It was tough on all levels of discrimination.
As a Finance graduate, what is your viewpoint on the barriers women face in the workplace here in Europe?
Here the flagrant difference is progression in jobs, salary differences and even at times sexual harassment in the workplace. Many women need to find their own confidence to progress. All this needs to change which I am dedicated to. I feel the more we raise awareness, the closer we get to change things.
How did your Entrepreneurial story begin?
When doing my MSc, I made a very good friend during my second internship called Roan (Umang) Sejpal. We were both in Paris together and he was a turning point in my career as he is someone truly inspirational. One day we decided to have a coffee together. The coffee went on for 4 hours during which we decided that we wanted to create a company. In consequence I turned down a CDI at a bank and we created a start-up creating a brand activation platform. I worked very hard on it working 14 hours days but like all entrepreneurs, we made loads of mistakes and it did not get its feet off the ground, but it was an inspiration to continue in the same field. While attending Vivatech which had just started in France I met my boss and later he gave me my first CDI in a tech startup where I became a Project manager developing Apps. It was during this time that I started to learn about Artificial Intelligence and as time went on I realized that it was an area really lacking in female professionals and I guess this is partly what inspired me to go on and be one of the founders of Women in AI four years ago.
Tell us about Women in Artificial Intelligence.
Well, we started as 5 enthusiasts in Paris in a café wishing to promote and raise women's profiles in AI but since then we have come a long way with presence in almost 140 countries and a huge reach on social media. The idea is that people learn from each other which essentially gives them a boost. This organization has helped us reach out to women all around the world with diverse backgrounds and often in countries whereby education is hard to come by. It’s done on a voluntary basis with ambassadors in each country. The pandemic has had a very positive effect as it has helped us reach out to an even bigger audience. Recently we had an online event with over 4000 participants!
For me, education is one of the most important things in the world and it is really a tool for change, so I guess this was the main driving factor for recently creating in October 2020 the Thousand Eyes On Me platform. This focuses on the aspects of personal development and the empowerment of gender minorities.
Why the Name A Thousand Eyes On Me?
It comes from an inner urge to succeed. I was inspired to give this name through a speaking experience of my own. Delivering a speech inevitably puts you to the forefront. It’s like when you are on a stage and then you have perhaps much more than a thousand eyes looking on you. When I started speaking in public for the first time, I was really stressed, so I told a friend who helped me. I wanted therefore to give the same self-confidence to others, especially to single women and minorities so that they too can share their ideas and ways of living with others and it is only by doing so that we can change the world for the better.
What is your vision for AI?
I think one of the most important things that we must remember is this: tech is not everything. Tech is not a goal. It’s a tool. It helps humans live better as humans not by making us less human. This is so important to understanding progress.
What’s your inner motto?
I guess it would be that: you are there to share light on others and make people look at you to get inspired.
You have an impressive profile. What is your vision for the future?
Well, one of the main concerns now of course is climate change. We have a window of 10 years and we have to find new ways of working and only then change will happen.