I think it’s worth your time because it changes your mindset. It doesn’t necessarily change your income or lifestyle right away – but your mindset, which later will change everything in your life, is changed. Right away.
The decision to come to INSEAD was a long one in the making, Nazrin Faig Mirzayeva’s husband had been an MBA student back in 2014 and moving to France with him for that period had been a significant change in her life, social circles and importantly on their mindset – an impact that she is keen to experience herself personally.
From building up her professional portfolio at the French Azerbaijani University as part of the pioneering team managing PR, communications, and events, to founding her own private members club, Cult Baku – an organisation where she aims to bring more awareness and appreciation of her country’s culture; Nazrin has achieved many things over the past 10 years, cumulating in her decision to take on the Leading Across Borders and Culture programme in our Executive Education portfolio in 2023.
The importance of culture in Azerbaijan
Culture has a very strong focus in Azerbaijan and is something near and dear to her heart. Traditionally in Azerbaijani, women are assumed to spend more time at home doing work that are less visible such as teaching music, sewing, cooking, or helping at vulnerable societies. Today, more women are joining the workforce and are able to find a balance between work and home; and this is an area where Nazrin believes that women, with their natural ability to communicate, network and attract positive energy can excel in.
Her family played a drastic role in her education and imbuing culture in her, Nazrin reveals. Being from the rural mountainous part of Azerbaijan, her father had an extraordinarily modern mindset for his time because unlike the conservative father figures his traditional community portrays, he strived to provide his daughters with their rights- to choose where to study, to choose what they liked to do, and whom they want to marry.
He strongly believed that education could take you places like no other means could, a belief that led him to work hard and provide his children with opportunities to excel. Growing up, she had quite a loaded childhood, not only from formal education, but also learning piano and juggling activities such as ballet, chess, art and more! While it did make for a very busy childhood, this investment in her is something that she is thankful for as Nazrin believes that when a person has education in different spheres, it broadens their view of the world and how connections can be made.
An example of this herself, she not only connects with her stakeholders better through her vast interests but is also able to better evaluate business decisions and the people she meets. This has helped her when setting up Cult Baku, which started with the goal to create a space to connect people through local culture be it arts, music, culinary and more. She remembers vividly meeting a particular delegate from Turkey during an international congress who said:
“Culture is going to become a value-add very soon for any country. Culture is something that stands out. Every time you travel somewhere, you don’t carry things with you that say oh this is where I am from. You speak to people, you wear clothes, this is how you smile, these are all culture.”
Bridging the gap in Azerbaijan through leading
Leadership, Nazrin shares, is someone who shows you the way and assures you that they will be there to support you through situations you might face. When we talked about leadership, some key traits of a good leader come to mind for Nazrin, having experienced them firsthand from different role models across her career.
She shares fondly of a direct manager, Charlotte, at the French Azerbaijani University who showed her that leadership meant to motivate your team through trust; of Hayala (pronounced kha-ya-la), a Chief Risk Officer in Azerbaijan’s banking industry who inspired and supported her to go beyond her means even if the project at hand is very radical to their nation’s traditions, as well as of Natalia, a hiring manager at a recent endeavour with EY, whose sensitivity and empathy shown during initial interviews showed Nazrin the importance an authentic connection and a willingness to learn and grow together.
With the emphasis on soft skills that a women leader can bring to the table, as well as taking after her father’s special interest in learning and sharing about cultures, Nazrin was inspired to bring her community together on an international scale. With the goal to host world-stage events at Azerbaijan and go beyond the events to truly promote the rich Azerbaijanian culture and spirit, she aims to build a community where soft skills are at core - starting from the way people communicate to international stakeholders to showcasing the right emotional approach and body language to encourage visitors to experience something new in her corner of the world.
Experience at INSEAD
Reaching a point in her work professionally and culturally, she felt that she needed more specific knowledge on how to manage different teams and stakeholders across borders hence she was considering the INSEAD for the Leading Across Borders & Cultures programme. Nothing is by coincidence it seems, as while she was fretting over this decision, she chanced upon Erin Meyer’s (programme director) book, “The Culture Map”, which was freshly put on shelves the day she happened to be flying through the Istanbul airport. Deciding that it was no coincidence, Nazrin bought the book, and never looked back on the decision.
It was scary to be back in the classroom after years! Nazrin shared that the sense of vulnerability in stepping into class was quite daunting, where she joined a cohort of people of diverse backgrounds and nationalities quite unlike her own. However, Erin and her team of trainers easily dissipated the fear through facilitating sharing sessions and encouraging active listening; after all every participant would have their own experiences that are similar at core, albeit experienced in a different part of the world. Culture indeed had been a core theme for Nazrin, and she gladly shared more about her part of the world which she often feels is underrepresented to Erin and the rest of her classmates.
The INSEAD experience was an amazing one for Nazrin, from the beautiful location to how the INSEAD team works together seamlessly to create an impactful and welcoming environment for the participants to learn and reach their full potential. Perhaps, she laughs, just a little intensive with the full programme immersion upon arrival!
Leveraging the INSEAD experience to move upwards and onwards
Returning to Azerbaijan upon completing the programme, Nazrin was met with people, women especially, who commented: “You have changed! But we can’t exactly say in what manner?” She found herself actively using the concept and techniques she was taught in the programme in her everyday life, from gestures, eye contact, body language, and even how she worded her thoughts and conversations. The change in her mindset was indeed a force for good.
Prior to the INSEAD experience, Nazrin was in the midst of negotiating an opportunity from EY. Levering on her INSEAD experience, this opportunity had grown bigger than before; combining her prior experience and newly gained knowledge, Nazrin is now working on crafting a brand-new cultural training programme for EY. And changes are only looking to grow even more from here across the different parts of her life.
And the diverse cohort whom she met with during the programme has kept in touch! Being based across the world, she shares that there are always insights and thoughts shared from all parts of the world for them to constantly engage with and learn from each other. In fact, a fellow participant in Austria had similarly been offered an opportunity to craft a training programme, and they have made plans to have an online date to share their thoughts and provide critical feedback.
What would Nazrin say to other participants looking to join Leading Across Borders & Culture?
Go with an open mind and do not be afraid to share your own experience for critical feedback and discussion. Often, we underestimate our own experiences, but through the programme you might see that nothing distances you more than your own thoughts. Give the programme an opportunity to inspire you, and let it lead you to greater things.