Making an Impact

Student Success Story

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Akbar Khuwaja

Master of Liberal Arts, Management Degree '14

Khuwaja, who is now attending Harvard Kennedy School’s Master in Public Administration program, intends to bring his business skills to make an impact in the nonprofit world. He talks about his passion and Extension School experience in the following Q&A.

As a finance and business controller, Akbar Khuwaja carefully tracks “the numbers side of the business.” But it is not all facts and figures for Khuwaja. He humbly credits his family, professors, and the Harvard community at large for playing a major role in helping him earn a master’s degree from Harvard Extension School. 

For me, impacting people’s lives is central to the purpose of education.

What made you decide to return to school to study management?

While I was growing professionally within my company, I was unsure whether I was having an impact on the lives of people. For me, impacting people’s lives is central to the purpose of education.

[Since I] work in finance and accounting, I also wanted to learn how units within a company communicate with each other and add value to their customers. I wanted to know how to formulate and implement management strategies.

What was one of the greatest challenges you faced as a student? And what did you do to overcome it?

My greatest challenge was managing my time, especially between work and studies. I had to wear two hats simultaneously: one of an employee, and the other of a student. It was difficult at first.

However, it was helpful to get guidance from professors and attend workshops at the Career and Academic Resource Center. I also kept my mind focused on what I could attain with my degree upon graduation. And this gave me perseverance to complete the program successfully.

Was there a class that stood out as particularly difficult? If so, why was it so hard?

I intentionally chose classes that were difficult—or challenging, at least. Immediately I can think of three or four: Strategy, Finance, Judgment, and Decision Making.

The subject matter was hard, but the professors were engaging. You could be prepared as much as you wanted, but when you came out of the class you were uncomfortable. That’s a great sign, because it means there is a lot more to think about. 

For decades, my family has been involved in nonprofits. My grandparents launched a higher education network in Pakistan, as the country was developing after the British left. Even now I’m in nonprofit work. I have a US-based foundation in Pakistan, which trains women in marketable skills so they can immediately become employed.

Why nonprofit leadership?

My goal is to transition into strategy consulting and gain experience [in nonprofit leadership] since I’ve seen only the financial aspect.

For decades, my family has been involved in nonprofits. My grandparents launched a higher education network in Pakistan, as the country was developing after the British left. Even now I’m in nonprofit work. I have a US-based foundation in Pakistan, which trains women in marketable skills so they can immediately become employed.

I realized that in for-profit [industry] I was impacting a very small section of the world … I can improve lives in nonprofit.

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